Vaginal discharge (or leukorrhea) serves an important housekeeping function in the female reproductive system. Fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and bacteria. This keeps the vagina clean and helps prevent infection.
Any bodily discharge can be embarrassing, but if you don’t know how to get rid of vaginal discharge, you may have issues with vaginal odor and/or staining that can lead to additional embarrassment. While many vaginal discharges are normal and help keep the pH balance of your vagina intact, other discharges can be the sign of real issues that need to be addressed either with over-the-counter medication or by seeing a qualified doctor.
Causes of Vaginal Discharge
Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy bodily function, and is your body’s way of cleaning and protecting the vagina. Furthermore, it is normal for discharge to increase with exercise, sexual arousal, ovulation, birth control pill use, and emotional stress.
Abnormal vaginal discharge, however, is usually caused by an infection.
Trichomoniasis. This is another type of infection, but it is caused by a protozoan. The infection is usually spread by sexual contact, but can also be contracted by sharing towels or bathing suits. This infection results in a yellow or green vaginal discharge that has a foul odor. Pain, inflammation, and itching are also common symptoms, although some individuals do not experience any symptoms.
Bacterial Vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection and is quite common. This infection causes increased vaginal discharge that has a strong, foul (“fishy”) odor, although in some cases it produces no symptoms. Women who receive oral sex or have multiple sexual partners have an increased risk of acquiring this infection.
Yeast Infection. A yeast infection is a fungal infection that produces white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge in addition to burning and itching sensations. The presence of yeast in the vagina is normal, but its growth can multiply out of control in certain situations. The following may increase your likelihood of yeast infections:
- Oral contraceptive use
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This type of infection is often caused by sexual contact and occurs when bacteria spreads up the vagina and into other reproductive organs. It may produce a heavy, foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Cervical Cancer. The HPV infection, which is caused by sexual contact, can lead to cervical cancer. While there may be no symptoms, this type of cancer can produce a bloody, brown, and/or watery discharge with a bad odor. Cervical cancer can easily be prevented or found with yearly pap smears and HPV testing.
Types of Vaginal Discharge
There are several different types of vaginal discharge. These types are categorized based on their color and consistency. Some are normal, while others may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.
Thick, White, Clumpy Discharge. Some white discharge, especially at the beginning or end of your menstrual cycle, is normal. However, if the discharge is accompanied by itching and has a thick, cottage cheese-like consistency, it is not normal and needs treatment. This type of discharge may be a sign of a yeast infection.
Clear and Watery. A clear and watery discharge is perfectly normal and can occur at any time of the month. It may be especially heavy after exercise.
Clear and Stretchy. When discharge is clear, but stretchy and mucous-like, rather than watery, it indicates that you are ovulating. This is a normal type of vaginal discharge.
Yellow or Green. A yellow or green discharge, especially when it is thick, chunky, or accompanied by a bad smell, is not normal. This type of discharge may be a sign of the infection trichomoniasis, which is commonly spread through sexual intercourse.
Brown or Bloody. Brown or bloody discharge is usually normal, especially when it occurs during your menstrual cycle. A late discharge at the end of your period can look brown instead of red. You may also experience a small amount of bloody discharge between periods, which is called spotting. If spotting occurs during the normal time of your period and you have recently had sex without protection, this could be a sign of pregnancy.
- In rare cases, brown or bloody discharge could be a sign of advanced cervical cancer. This is why it is important to get a yearly pelvic exam and Pap smear, during which your gynecologist will check for cervical abnormalities.
How to Treat Normal Vaginal Discharge
Change your underwear. Changing your underwear 2-3 times a day can help the problem. This will help keep bacteria away from your vagina and will also reduce your discomfort and the smell.
- Make sure you’re wearing the right kind of underwear, since wearing the wrong kind can even be causing the problem! Wear cotton underwear with good ventilation (meaning those skinny jeans you wear can also be causing the problem).
Use baby wipes. Wipe away the excess discharge when you go to the bathroom. Try not to get the wipe too far into your vagina; you should only be cleaning the outside (vulva). Use wipes which are unscented and contain as few chemicals as possible.
Don’t douche. Don’t ever douche, unless you are asked to by a doctor or gynocologist. Doucheing badly disrupts your body’s natural rhythms and can cause you to get vaginal infections to begin with. If you are currently doucheing, this may be the source of your discharge.
- Many douches that are bought at the store contain “scents” or soaps, these may make you feel cleaner in the short term, but in the long run will actually make the problem worse. They will disrupt the natural pH of your vagina and cause it to work overtime to get back to its normal state.
- Even unscented or pure douches are bad, so be careful.
Use a pad or pantyliner in extreme cases. Generally you want to avoid these, as usually your body creates the discharge to get rid of something and keeping that something close to your body is not the best idea. However, if you are in a situation where you really need to keep the discharge in check or the discharge is so bad it can’t be controlled, you can use a pad or pantyliner. Try to change it as often as possible.
Air yourself out. Try to get as much air exposure as possible. Sleep naked or walk around your house without pants or underwear if you can. The air will help keep your skin from becoming irritated and creating more opportunities for infection. It can also help treat the problem itself, if your body simply has an imbalance of bacteria, since it will give your body the opportunity to restore itself to normal.
Home Remedies for Vaginal Discharge
Use amla. Take 3 grams amla (or Indian gooseberry) powder and 6 grams honey, mix them to make a paste and take it two times a day for 30 days.
- Take 20 grams amla juice mixed with 1/2 tea spoon honey for one month for positive result.
Use saffron. The antiseptic and antioxidant properties in saffron help you get rid of vaginal discharge. Plus, saffron acts as an immune booster to speed up recovery.
- Boil one teaspoon of saffron in one-fourth cup of water until the water is reduced to one tablespoon.
- Divide this solution into three equal portions.
- Mix one portion with an equal amount of water.
- Drink this solution three times daily for several days.
Use lady‘s fingers. Prepare a decoction with 200 grams lady finger and one litre water. Boil till the water is reduced to half and divide the potion in two or three doses. Follow the treatment at least for a week for positive results.
Use apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is considered beneficial for treating vaginal discharge. It helps restore your body’s natural pH balance. Also, its acidic and antiseptic properties help restore the acidic quality of the vaginal flora and reduce vaginal odor.
- Mix equal amounts of distilled water and raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Use it as a vaginal wash once or twice a day for a few days.
- You can also drink a glass of water mixed with one or two tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar once daily.
Use rice starch. Rice starch helps treat vaginal discharge as well as stomach ailments.
- Boil rice and keep the strained water aside and drink it in small doses.
Use alum (phitkari). Alum is a natural antiseptic and it can be taken orally or can be used externally to get rid of vaginal discharge.
- Take 1/4 tea spoon of alum powder with water two times a day.
- You can dissolve alum powder in water and use it as vaginal douche for treating the infection. This is a very effective remedy to cure various type of infections related to genitals.
Use basil. Basil or tulsi has marvellous medicinal value. It has the power to cure several diseases and it can also prevent many ailments.
- Mix the juice of basil leaves and honey in equal proportion and take it in the morning and evening for two weeks.
- Mix 1 tea spoon tulsi juice with 1/2 tea spoon cumin powder and consume it with cow’s milk for three weeks. Take tulsi juice with crystallized sugar.
How to Evaluate the Vaginal Discharge Problem
Consider the state of your body. Factors that affect vaginal discharge include what you eat, your ovulation, whether or not you’re on the pill, if you are breast-feeding, what medications you are taking, whether or not you are pregnant, your menstrual cycle and whether or not you are under stress. If you are doing any of these things, realize that your vaginal discharge is normal and may not be able to (or should be changed) until you stop.
- You can also be at risk of throwing off your vagina’s natural pH balance if you are on antibiotics or if you use vaginal douches, feminine hygiene products or perfumed soaps. While anti-biotics cannot be avoided, doucheing and scented feminine products should always be avoided as these are bad for your body.
- Other things that can put you at risk include pregnancy, diabetes or other infections that are near or around that area of the body.
See if your vaginal discharge is normal. Normal vaginal secretions will be clear or milky in appearance. This natural lubricant helps clean your vagina, keeps it free from germs and also should be odor-free. It may also be thin, stringy or have white spots. If this sounds like your discharge, leave it alone. Natural discharge is very important in keeping your vagina healthy and preventing not normal discharge. Messing with natural discharge will just make the “problem” worse.
Know the difference between colors and odors of vaginal discharge. Off-color or foul odors in the vaginal region can be the sign of a pelvic infection after you’ve had a surgery, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), vaginal atrophy during menopause, trichomoniasis or vaginitis, and several other vaginal infections, all of which should be diagnosed by a doctor and treated with prescription medication.
- Vaginal discharge with bacterial vaginosis will be gray, white or yellow. It will also have a fishy odor.
- If you have gonorrhea, you might have a cloudy or yellow discharge.
- Yeast infections can be apparent if you have a white, thick, clumpy discharge. This discharge is often described as being a cottage cheese consistency. Cottage cheese discharge is also characteristic of chlamydia, a common STI.
- If you have an irregular period or endometrial or cervical cancer, you may notice a bloody or brown vaginal discharge.
- If you have trichomoniasis, yellow/green frothy discharge that has a bad odor may affect you.
Look for foreign objects. Leaving in a tampon for too long can cause unusual vaginal discharge. Some women forget they even had a tampon up there! You can also end up with other objects in your vagina which can cause a discharge (as your body tries to expel it). A common example is a piece of a broken condom.
Go to a doctor. If the problem is very bad, it is probably a sign of infection and you will need to see a doctor. Aside from the fact that things like cancer and STDs can cause bad vaginal discharge, letting an infection stay in your vagina untreated can lead to infertility and other problems in the future.
- If you do have health insurance, but you don’t want to tell say…your parents why you want to go to the doctor, make up an excuse. You can say you think you might have a yeast infection, which are very common and not the result of STDs or other things which your parents will disapprove of. If you don’t even want to say that, you can just say that your period is getting irregular and you want to get it checked out.
- If you don’t have health insurance, there are clinics (like Planned Parenthood) which offer gynecological exams and treatment for free or very cheap.
- Avoid taking medication until you know what the cause is. There is medication for things like yeast infections, but you should not self-diagnose a yeast infection if this is your first time getting one. Taking yeast infection medication without a yeast infection can lead to future problems.
- Don’t let embarrassing vaginal discharge cause you to start using vaginal deodorants or sprays. These will only make the symptoms worse because you will continue to throw off the pH balance in that area.
- If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before trying home remedies for vaginal discharge.
- Don’t be scared that the smell will make your friends think you’re a smelly person. Because you’re not. It’s just something that happens to all of us.
- Wash undergarments daily with an antibiotic solution, and let them dry under the sun.
- Avoid wearing dirty, tight or synthetic undergarments.
- Change your undergarment two or three times a day until the problem is resolved.
- Consider wearing a panty liner.
- Thoroughly wash the vagina and its surrounding area with water and medicated soap twice daily.
- Wipe from front to back after using the toilet.
- Avoid oily and dried foods.
- Avoid coffee, alcohol and aerated drinks.
- Increase your fluid intake to help flush out toxins.
- Try to do some light exercises or yoga daily.