It is a question that is often asked: Is my vaginal discharge normal or should I be worried that something is wrong? The answer is: It depends. Every woman experiences some vaginal discharge and usually, it signals a healthy vagina but there are times when you should talk with your doctor.
What is Normal Discharge?
The pH in your vagina is naturally acidic to help prevent infections. This acidity is caused by "good" bacteria created by your body. Your vagina produces secretions to help cleanse your vagina, much like the saliva in your mouth. The secretions are released every day cleaning out old cells. The secretions also help prevent infections and keep your vagina lubricated.
As the secretions flow out of your vagina, you may see some discharge. Normal discharge is clear or milky white. It can sometimes appear yellowish when dry on clothing. You may also see small white flecks or, depending on your menstrual cycle, it may be thin and stringy.
Changes in Normal Discharge
Vaginal discharge can change throughout your menstrual cycle because the pH levels change. For example, you may see more discharge or thinner discharge during your cycle, especially if you have engaged in strenuous exercise. White discharge normally occurs at the beginning and end of your cycle. Thin, clean and stretchy discharge can occur during ovulation. All of these are normal reactions to your changing hormones.
You may also see changes to normal discharge if you are under a lot of emotional stress. Other reasons for changes can include pregnancy, certain medications, sexual arousal, hormonal birth control and your nutritional intake.
Discharge as a Sign of Infection
Although there are normal changes throughout your menstrual cycle, you should notice the same changes each month. If you notice any of the following, it may be an indication of an infection:
- Increased discharge or discharge that continues over an extended period of time
- Discharge that is accompanied by itching or a rash
- Burning on skin or in the vagina
- White, clumpy discharge that resembles cottage cheese
- Discharge that has a foul odor
If you experience any of these types of discharge, it is best to talk with your doctor and be tested for infections. Some of the common vaginal infections include:
Vaginosis - This is an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina and is normally treated with either an oral or topical antibiotic. With vaginosis, your discharge may increase, be grey or white, watery and have a foul smell. Discharge may increase after sexual intercourse.
Trichomoniasis - This is an infection normally spread through sexual contact but it can also be contracted by sharing wet towels or bathing suits. Discharge may be yellow or green, have a foul odor and be accompanied by increased need for urination and itching. You may have inflammation of the vulva or vagina. It is normally treated with antibiotics.
Yeast Infection - Your vagina normally has a small amount of yeast, however, an overabundance of yeast will cause a yeast infection. With this type of infection, you may see an increased amount of discharge that has white clumps, similar to cottage cheese. You may also experience redness, itching or burning in your vagina. Antifungal medications are used to treat a yeast infection.
Being aware of your normal vaginal discharge will help you notice any changes that would require you to see your doctor.
"Knowing the Difference Between Normal Discharge and Infections," 2008, Feb 29, Staff Writer, McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois
"Vaginal Discharge," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Palo Alto Medical Foundation
"Vaginal Discharge," Reviewed 2010, May 21, Staff Writer, Cleveland Clinic
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.