Vaginal Odors: Causes and Treatments

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Vaginal odor is a common issue that women face. Just like any other part of your body, the vagina has a natural odor, and it is unique for every woman.

But just because your vagina has an odor, that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. The smell depends on various factors, including bacteria, diet, sex life, and more. The way your vagina smells could also be the result of a recent activity. For example, it may remain odorless immediately after a hot bath, but it might smell musky or sweaty after a long workout session. You may have noticed that during your menstrual cycle, your vagina has a metallic smell. This is normal and nothing to be worried about.

But apart from these regular happenings, if you notice a new strange or foul smell, you need to pay attention.

Causes of vaginal odor

  • Infection: Vaginal infection may be one reason for a strong or unpleasant vaginal odor. One type of infection that may cause a fishy odor is bacterial vaginosis. Other symptoms include burning and a thin white or gray discharge. Yeast infection and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are other possible causes for strong vaginal odor. Infections are usually accompanied by other symptoms, too, such as a change or increase in discharge and pain or other discomfort.
  • Hormonal changes: Vaginal odor may change throughout a normal menstrual cycle depending on the phase of the cycle. Additionally, women going through menopause or pregnancy may notice changes in vaginal odor or discharge.

  • Poor hygiene: Having poor hygiene — for example, not bathing regularly or not changing pads or tampons frequently enough — could lead to an unpleasant vaginal odor. Good hygiene is essential when it comes to the healthy functioning of your body. Use warm water and soap when washing the area around the vagina (the vulva). Avoid using cleansers with chemical-based ingredients, which could irritate the area and disturb the natural pH of your vagina.

  • Unprotected sex: Sex can introduce foreign bacteria into your body through the vagina. Neglecting the use of a condom could be the reason your vagina has a bad odor. To avoid infections and the odors that may accompany them, always have safe, protected sex. It also helps to rinse off before and after coitus.

  • Unhealthy diet: Some evidence suggests the food you eatyour diet can impact your body odor in general, so it’s best to eat a healthy diet. If you are on antibiotics, try eating yogurt with live cultures or taking Lactobacilius acidophilus tablets to avoid vaginal yeast infection.

  • Your underwear: Sitting in the used underwear for days can pave the way to vaginal odor. Uncomfortable and dirty underwear can cause itchiness and irritation down there because it increases the moisture caused by sweat. It is important to change your underwear regularly. Also, try looser, 100 percent cotton underwear, which is more breathable.

What's normal and what's not?

If there is any drastic change in your usual odor and discharge, it may be cause for concern. Here are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for:

  • An increase in discharge amount or color
  • A change in odor
  • Itching, burning, or pain in the vagina or surrounding area
  • Discomfort during sex
  • Foul-smelling discharge

Treatment

The treatment of your vaginal odor depends on the cause. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should see a doctor to rule out infections like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or STDs. Once diagnosed, these infections can typically be treated with an antibiotic or other medication.

Home remedies

If you don’t have abnormal symptoms, you can try to get rid of vaginal odor with home remedies. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these methods are not backed strongly by scientific evidence.

Natural ingredients in your diet may be helpful in preventing vaginal odor. Many fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, are rich in Vitamin C, so adding them to your diet can boost immunity, potentially helping to ward off vaginal infections.

Some people find they can reduce vaginal odor, irritation, or discomfort with these natural ingredients:

  • Baking soda or vinegar: Some people use douches with these ingredients. However, it’s important to keep in mind that douching can actually increase the risk for infection.
  • Boric acid: Some evidence suggests boric acid can help with recurrent yeast infections. However, it may cause some burning.
  • Yogurt: Just as yogurt can be consumed to help boost “good” bacteria in the body, you can also safely apply unsweetened yogurt directly to the area to try to relieve symptoms.
  • Tea tree oil or garlic: Some evidence suggests these may help treat certain vaginal infections, but more research needs to be done to be sure.

Consult your doctor

If no natural remedy is helping, or your symptoms are unusual or severe, you may require medical treatment. Every woman has a normal vaginal odor, but it becomes a concern when it poses discomfort in your daily life. When in doubt, see a doctor; they can help you get to the root of the problem.

See more helpful articles:

Vaginal Odors and What They Mean

Vaginal Discharge: Is it Normal?

Vaginal or Vulvar Bumps? Here’s What Could Be Causing Them