6 Vaginal Odors and What They Might Mean

Alisha Bridges | March 29, 2016

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Your vagina is supposed to have a natural smell, but how do you know when you should worry? Vaginal odors can depend on the amount of normal and healthy bacteria present, what you eat, recent activities (such as sex or exercise), and your menstrual cycle. Here are several different vaginal odors and what they might mean for your health.

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Fishy

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While healthy vaginas can smell slightly fishy, if it is a change from what you normally notice or is strong, you may have an infection. Infections that may cause a fishy odor include bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a sexually transmitted disease called trichomoniasis. The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) say BV is a common issue and occurs when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria that is normally present in the vagina. While it’s not life-threatening, it can be very uncomfortable.

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Musty

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If you are exercising or doing other vigorous activity, your lady parts can become sweaty just like any other part of your body — especially if you have hair down there. This smell is normal. To minimize it, you can opt to shave your pubic hair or choose to get it professionally waxed; however, keep in mind that certain hair removal methods can be irritating and may increase infection risk. You can also reduce odors by maintaining good hygiene and rinsing the area with plain soap and warm water.

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Bread or yeast

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If you smell something bread-like, it may be a yeast infection; however, yeast infections often have no odor at all. More common symptoms include itching and a white, cottage cheese-like discharge. Yeast infections can be uncomfortable but aren’t life-threatening. Before trying an over-the-counter treatment, make sure you know it’s definitely a yeast infection and not some other type of infection (like BV). If you see a doctor, they may also offer an oral medication depending on your diagnosis.

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Bleach

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This is how some women describe their vaginal odor after sex. This type of smell may occur based on the different condoms and lubricants used, but it’s not harmful.

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Ammonia

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If your underwear smells like ammonia, you could be dealing with BV, as mentioned earlier, or a UTI. Drinking more water, avoiding the use of spermicides and diaphragms, and urinating when you feel the urge and after sexual activity are all ways to help prevent UTIs. If you already have one, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of the infection.

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Iron or blood

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The smell of iron or blood can be common, especially if you’re on your period or your period just ended. This is a common smell and should not raise concern. When menstrual blood hits the air, it will naturally have an odor. If it persists, it never hurts to ask your doctor about it.

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How can I fix my vaginal odor?

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Remember: Some level of vaginal odor is perfectly normal. But if your vaginal odor is particularly strong or accompanied by other strange or uncomfortable symptoms, like burning, itching, or a change in your usual discharge, it’s always best to head to your doctor’s office to get it checked out. They can help you get a proper diagnosis, which, in turn, can help you feel better faster.

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What about natural remedies?

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There are natural remedies that you can try for certain vaginal odor-related problems, but it’s important to keep in mind that many of these are not backed by much scientific data. For example, some people find applying unsweetened yogurt to the area helps relieve certain vaginal symptoms.

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What about douching?

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While you may be tempted to douche or try other products marketed toward freshening up your genital area, be wary. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, douching is not recommended because it can actually make things worse and increase the risk of infection.