Vaginal discharge is completely normal for women and isn't something you should usually worry about or try to prevent from occurring. Discharge is your body's way of trying to keep your vagina lubricated and clean.

However, you should monitor your discharge to make sure it doesn't change. There are some textures and colours to look out for that can suggest there's a problem in your intimate area.

In this article, we’ve run through what causes vaginal discharge, why it might smell and when you should consult your pharmacist or doctor.

What causes vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is created naturally by your body to carry dead cells and bacteria out of the vagina to ensure it stays healthy and free from infection.

Your discharge is completely normal if it is: 

  • Clear or white
  • Thick and sticky
  • Slippery and wet
  • Doesn’t have a strong or unpleasant smell

Discharge is different for every person. The amount you have can differ, as can the texture and smell. However, you should monitor your discharge to see if it changes. If it does change, this could be a sign of an infection. 

You should seek help about your discharge if it:

  • Is thick and white with a cottage cheese consistency
  • Is green, yellow or frothy
  • Isn’t there at all

Thick, white discharge

If your discharge is thick and white and has a consistency similar to cottage cheese, you may have Thrush. Thrush is a type of yeast infection that can be treated with antifungal medication. Other symptoms include itching and irritation around the vagina and soreness or stinging during sex, or when you go for a wee. 

Yellow or frothy discharge

If you’re experiencing frothy discharge that is yellow or green in colour, this could be a sign of Trichomoniasis. This is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by a parasite. The discharge may have a putrid, fishy odour too. If you think that you have any of the above symptoms and have recently had unprotected sex with a new sexual partner, then you should see your doctor.

No discharge

If you don’t have any discharge, you may have vaginal dryness. If you experience other symptoms, such as pain during sex, a frequent need to wee, urine infections or itchiness, then see your doctor about vaginal dryness and how you can treat it.

You should always see your doctor if your discharge changes colour, smell or texture or if you’re producing more discharge than normal.

What causes vaginal discharge to smell?

Healthy discharge shouldn’t smell at all. However, if your discharge does smell, your vagina could be trying to tell you that something is wrong down there.

If your discharge has a fishy smell, you may have Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). BV is a common cause of unusual discharge. It not only makes the discharge smell, but it can also turn it an off-white or grey colour with a thin and watery texture. It can usually be treated with antibiotic tablets or creams and gels, so speak to your doctor about your options.

Other reasons for foul smelling discharge can include Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, Gonorrhoea or Chlamydia.

Smelly discharge doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything scary going on down there. It could also be a result of stress, excessive sweating or even the foods you eat.

How to prevent smelly discharge

If you’ve noticed that your discharge is smelling more strongly than normal, you should go to your doctor to rule out any of the infections that we’ve mentioned above. If you’ve been given the all clear, there may be some things you can do at home to reduce the smell and the amount of discharge.

For example, you should try to wear breathable material, such as cotton underwear. This will help you to stay dry throughout the day. You may also want to avoid wearing tight clothing, such as skinny jeans. Instead, you could try floaty skirt or loose-fitting cotton trousers.

When you’re in the shower, avoid using scented soaps. You might think these will help to mask the smell, but they could make the discharge worse. This is because the soap strips the naturally occurring fluid away from your intimate area, which will begin to produce more to make up for the fluid that has been lost. Instead, use a mildly fragranced, colourant-free feminine wash that will help to rebalance your natural pH.

Never try to mask the smell by applying deodorant to that area. The intimate area is very sensitive, and these products may make the situation worse.