Vaginal discharge – all you need to know.

vaginal discharge, Most women have some sort of vaginal discharge from puberty onwards.  It varies in colour, texture, odour and quantity throughout their lives, as it’s sensitive to hormones and vaginal infections.

It’s important to know what’s normal for you so that if something changes you know whether or not to worry.

In this article we’re going to talk about what’s normal and what’s not.

Why do women have a natural vaginal discharge?

Vaginal secretions have a number of functions:

  1. They keep the vagina clean by helping to flush out potentially harmful bacteria
  2. They moisten the vagina to keep it supple and comfortable
  3. The healthy odour they produce plays a part in primitive sexual attraction
  4. They create the right environment for the sperm to maximise the chances of an egg fertilising.

Vaginal secretions are made by little glands in the cervix.  They produce a clear fluid that becomes white, creamy or yellow when it’s exposed to air.  This is what we call vaginal discharge.

Why do I sometimes have more discharge than at other times?

The amount of secretions varies with:

  • age,
  • monthly cycle,
  • stress,
  • if you’re breast feeding,
  • sexual arousal,
  • pregnancy,
  • infection.

What is normal vaginal discharge?

Women who worry about their vaginal discharge often comment on the smell and/or the amount they produce.

The smell of the vaginal secretions is difficult to describe and it’s often said to be ‘musky’ and/or ‘salty’.  It should, however smell healthy.  And it’s unlikely that anyone other than your sexual partner when s/he is very close to you, can smell your secretions unless they are unhealthy (see below).

It’s also impossible to say what is a normal amount of vaginal discharge as this will vary from woman to woman.  As we said at the top of the page, it’s important to know what’s normal for you, but it’s not usually necessary to wear a sanitary pad for normal vaginal discharge.

Normal discharge has a balance of what’s referred to as ‘flora’ – the yeasts and bacteria that grow naturally in the vagina – and the right level of acidity to keep it healthy.

What about douches?

The natural secretions are designed to keep the vagina clean and in the right balance to prevent infection.  The chemicals in douches can kill these yeasts and bacteria and upset the balance of what nature does in keeping the vagina clean.  They can therefore make you more prone to vaginal infections and discomfort.  Some infections can lead to infertility.

For this reason experts recommend that women don’t use douches.

Douches can make a vaginal discharge worse by removing the good bacteria and yeasts.

If you know that douches have lead to problems in the past then, obviously don’t use them.  If you have used them without problems consider whether you prefer natural cleanliness to chemical cleaning.

What is an abnormal vaginal discharge?

If your normal discharge changes in colour, texture, smell or quantity, this may be a sign of infection.

  • Changes in colour to green, dark yellow, grey or brown
  • Changes in consistency to a watery, bubbly, thick or curd-like discharge
  • Changes in smell to a fishy or otherwise unhealthy or unfamiliar smell
  • Vaginal itching and redness in the vulval area

Are all potential signs of vaginal infectionssuch as thrush, bacterial vaginosis (BV) or trichomoniasis.

Another source of infection is a tampon that hasn’t been removed at the end of your period.  Doctors call this a ‘retained tampon’.  If you think you have forgotten to remove a tampon and can feel it in the vagina but can’t remove it yourself,  your doctor or nurse will be able to help.

A brown discharge after the menopause or when you’re not having your menstrual period should also be discussed with your healthcare provider as it may be a sign that blood is present.  The source of the blood needs to be investigated.

If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault in some way, read this page now:  How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.

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