Smelly Discharge: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Dr David NunnsDr David Nunns

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Dr David Nunns, Consultant Gynaecologist

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Young women are particularly self-conscious about their vaginal discharge smell, feeling anxious about their boyfriends or partners detecting the slightest whiff and fleeing the scene. In reality, normal, healthy discharge doesn’t really have any strong odour to it. Everyone’s vagina has its own unique smell, caused by anything from lifestyle to diet, clothing to bathroom habits.

However, occasionally the smell will genuinely be problematic, and this is often your body’s way of telling you there is something wrong. Therefore, it is worth knowing the signs and how to get treatment for smelly discharge if this applies to you.

# How Should Discharge Smell?

Everyone has a unique smell to their discharge, and you will hear all sorts of descriptions bandied about – musky, slightly sour, biscuit-like, musty – but only you will know what your natural smell is.

The important thing is that it is a mild odour, and isn’t reminiscent of bread or fish – both of which can be signs something is wrong.

# What Causes Smelly Discharge?

There are a number of possible causes of smelly discharge to consider, and a simple habit or lifestyle change may make all the difference. Here are a few suggestions:

It’s Your Natural Smell

All vaginal discharge will have a smell of some sort, but the exact aroma is unique – just as our sense of smell is unique and individual. Besides that, there is a huge variation in what each person finds acceptable.

If your discharge has a mild, musty odour that varies a bit with your monthly cycle, it is probably just your normal smell. You might not even notice it some days, while in the days around your period you might find that your discharge has an almost metallic smell, as a small amount of blood may be mixed in with it.

Your Hygiene Is Not On Point

With feminine hygiene, it’s all about the right balance. Not taking enough care of your feminine area or over-washing can have a similar effect when it comes to discharge smell.

Therefore, one of the reasons for smelly discharge can simply be the combination of a lack of hygiene and excessive sweating. Being slightly musky to begin with, vaginal discharge can get unpleasant after a round of exercise or a brisk walk, when the muskiness increases as moisture is released from sweat glands in the area.

Equally though, over-washing can be harmful to the natural pH balance in your vagina and can knock things off-kilter.

Yes, it sounds like it is tricky to get things right, but for most women, the ideal is to wash the area once a day with unperfumed or mild soap and keep it dry.

External Factors

Some reasons for smelly discharge can be quite unexpected, like your diet. Foods such as garlic, onion, and asparagus can cause a less pleasant odour.

The medication you have started taking or even vitamin pills can reportedly have an influence on discharge smell, too.

Other factors such as lubricants and condoms can also pass on some of their chemical/rubber smell and change the odour of your discharge slightly. You may find that you have particularly bad-smelling discharge after unprotected sex, as the combination of sperm with your vaginal fluids can exacerbate the odour.

Still, none of these should be giving off foul whiffs, so if you do find you have smelly discharge, it would be a good idea to get to the bottom of it.

Things Forgotten… But Not Gone

A forgotten tampon at the end of your period, or a diaphragm mistakenly left behind, can both begin to harbour bacteria and cause a foul smell. If you are struggling to remove the offending object, book an appointment with your doctor or nurse and they can sort out this for you.

An Infection

A Bacterial Infection: The most common cause of fishy smelling discharge is a bacterial infection – Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) – which can change the balance of normal bacteria in your vagina. In technical terms, it means that your vagina contains too much anaerobic bacteria (the bad guys), and it has outgrown the Lactobacilli bacteria (the good guys) so they can no longer function as they are meant to. The bad guys are basically the smelly ones, so all of a sudden, with them dominating, you find you have strong, smelly discharge.

A Sexually Transmitted Infection: The same smell can also be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection, such as trichomoniasis, although it doesn’t always give off an odour. Yeast infections, on the other hand, can give off a slight yeasty odour but are generally fairly mild-smelling.

If you are suffering from either a bacterial infection or an STI, you may display symptoms in addition to a fishy odour, including yellow discharge, as well as pain, swelling or itching around the vagina or inner thighs, pain during sex or when going to the toilet, and an increase in the amount of discharge.

If you’ve just ticked most of these boxes, get yourself to the doctors or sexual health clinic as soon as possible. They will be able to offer you a treatment to get rid of the infection, often in a matter of days.

# Is There Treatment For Smelly Discharge If Everything Else Is Fine?

If you get the all-clear from a doctor but still feel that your discharge has a stronger smell than you would like it to, it is worth considering wearing Always Daily Panty Liners.

They can help as they absorb vaginal discharge and neutralize odours, leaving you with a clean and fresh feeling all day long. They have been dermatologically tested and are safe to wear every day.

# What Can I Do For Feminine Odour To Keep It Nice In the Future?

There are certain steps you can take to ensure you maintain a healthy balance down below and to help you avoid having to seek out treatment for smelly discharge. Things to consider are:

  • Keep yourself clean, shower (rather than bathe) regularly with warm water and mild or unperfumed soaps, particularly after sex. Avoid douching, as that can clear out the good bacteria as well as the bad – or push any bad stuff further inside you. The vagina is ultimately self-cleaning, so messing with it too much can unsettle its natural balance
  • Be mindful of your clothing styles and textures. Cotton lets your lady parts breathe better than synthetic materials, and looser clothing allows air to circulate, unlike tight clothing
  • Maintain general overall physical health through a good diet and plenty of hydration (i.e. drink lots of water). You know the saying “healthy body, healthy mind”? Well, in this case, it is “healthy body, healthy vagina”!
  • Make sure you change tampons regularly, to avoid creating an environment where the bad bacteria find it easier to grow. Consider using Always Daily Panty Liners to allow air to circulate more freely in the region
  • Keep in mind that having multiple sexual partners is known to increase your risk of BV
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