Vaginal Discharge – What’s Normal and What’s Not?
Of all the things people are hesitant to talk about that is to do with having a vagina, a topic that especially does not casually pop up in conversations is disparities in vaginal discharge. Of course, it’s not the most ideal thing to talk about but this is also the reason why most people are left in the dark about it. There are even women in their mid-twenties who are curious yet unaware of what vaginal discharge is. So, what is vaginal discharge and what exactly should be a cause for concern? Fret not – we’ve got this covered.
Here’s what you need to know about vaginal discharge and what to look out for.
What is vaginal discharge?
First thing’s first – vaginal discharge is perfectly normal and common. Most ladies will get it at some point in their lives. Healthy discharge serves a very important function that is pivotal to a healthy female reproductive system.
The vagina possesses a self-cleaning ability, meaning that it rids itself of unwanted substances, keeping things down there clean, moist and free from infections.
What the vaginal discharge does is that it carries unwanted substances like dead cells, cervical mucous and bacteria out and away from the vagina – the formula for a happy and healthy environment down there.
The usual case
One may start observing vaginal discharge just about the same time as she gets her first period. Do note that the discharge may appear even months prior as the body undergoes significant hormonal changes during this period.
When it comes to frequency, some women get vaginal discharge every day whilst others only get it from time to time.
One important thing to take note of is that its consistency and appearance changes throughout the menstrual cycle along with hormonal changes that come into play.
So now you may be wondering, what does normal discharge look like?
What’s considered a healthy vaginal discharge
Apart from that, typically, normal vaginal discharge is either white or clear and at times, stretchy. The latter that brings on the consistency of egg whites to the discharge is normally the case a few days after your menstrual period ends and an indication that you are ovulating. The specific slipperiness and stretchiness that the discharge takes on during this period is no mere coincidence. It occurs to serve the purpose of facilitating the transport of sperm up through the cervix, with hopes of fertilizing an egg.
The watery discharge could appear at any point in time. On top of this, the discharge may have just a slight odour and possibly leave a yellowish tint on underwear – once again, completely normal.
It is possible for the discharge to increase with sexual arousal, the ovulation period, breastfeeding and following exercise.
However, red flag symptoms to watch out for includes the discharge having a strong smell, a thicker consistency, and a yellowish tint to it on top of other changes in the texture and appearance. These may signal an underlying problem that deserves attention.
Discharge that is abnormal
Abnormal discharge is caused by an infection. There are various possible causes of such an issue and there are some specifics you should watch out for like changes in colour, foul odour and unusual texture. Of course, every vagina has a specific scent, however, one would be able to tell if something is off and deviating from the norm.
If the discharge is greyish-white or of a similar shade, you may have an infection which most likely could be bacterial vaginosis (BV). Other symptoms like a fishy odour, itching or a burning sensation when peeing may present as well if it’s BV. Those who have more than one sexual partner or pregnant are at a higher risk of acquiring this infection.
On the other hand, if the discharge is white, resembles cottage cheese, and is paired with vulvar itching, the reason may be a vaginal yeast infection. While BV occurs when the normal lactobacillus bacteria levels in your vagina that keeps it somewhat acidic are thrown off balance, yeast infections similarly occur when the vaginal yeast levels are disrupted.
If you get a yellow, cloudy or greenish discharge, a possible factor may be sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like trichomoniasis, chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
What to do if you have abnormal vaginal discharge:
If you notice something strange and out of the ordinary happening down there, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor. They can help conduct a physical exam and pinpoint the exact cause of the abnormal discharge you may be getting. It’s also advised to get screened for STDs in any such case.
Tips to maintain vaginal health
Here are some precautions you could take to ensure your vaginal discharge remains healthy:
- Do not douche: Douching is when the vagina is washed out, typically with a mixture of water and vinegar. This may do more harm as it could upset the natural microbial balance in the vagina and hence, make you more prone to infections. Stick to just cleaning the outside of the vagina using soap and water when taking a shower.
- Avoid using scented sanitary products: It’s best to opt for unscented that are gentler on the vagina and surrounding area
- Maintain a healthy diet: Consuming vegetables rich in prebiotics and probiotic-rich food like greek yoghurt could help with vaginal health
The bottom line here is to keep an eye on the situation down there at all times. And in any case, if you do notice some funny business happening, do not hesitate to consult an OB-GYN. Other than that, you can sit back, relax and let the healthy vaginal discharge do its work!