Vaginal discharge is crucial for the proper functioning of the female reproductive system. It is normal for your vagina to give off a slight odor. But a strong smell may indicate a problem. Vaginal odor is caused due to several reasons.
In a nutshell, vaginal odor is any smell that comes from the vagina. The intensity or smell of the odor can differ during pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause. Women may also notice strong vaginal odors after exercise, sexual intercourse, or other high-intensity activities.
An abnormal, foul odor may manifest with other symptoms like irritation, burning, discharge, and itching. When your vaginal odor is unaccompanied by other symptoms, it is considered normal.
An abnormal odor may also occur due to infection or other similar problems. A proper diagnosis can help determine the cause of the odor. You must seek professional help if you notice abnormal vaginal odor regularly.
Causes of Vaginal Odor
Normal, Healthy Vaginal Odors
- Tangy, fermented or sour. The normal bacterial flora creates vaginal odours that are described as tangy, fermented, or sour. Good bacteria help in keeping the vagina healthy by producing hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid and other substances to keep harmful bacteria away. Good bacteria helps maintain the vaginal pH levels to keep it on the acidic side (between 3.8 & 4.5 for non-menopausal women and between 4.5 & 6 for women in menopause) to ward off the overgrowth of yeast and other harmful bacteria.
- Metallic. A metallic vaginal odour can result from blood from menstruation or light bleeding travelling through the vaginal canal after sex. Blood has iron which explains the metal smell. It can also be from contact with semen, which may affect your vagina’s pH balance.
- Bleachy, similar to a clean kitchen sink. A chemically vaginal odour can be ascribed to a bit of urine in the underwear or around the vulva.
Unhealthy Vaginal Odors
If you see any of the following vaginal odours, contact your gynaecologist.
- Fishy. If the vaginal odor is foul, like the smell of a dead fish, it could be a sign of a more serious condition like:
- Trichomoniasis: A sexually transmitted infection is one possible explanation for a heavy fishy odour from the vagina. Women with trichomoniasis usually have genital burning, itching, soreness or redness; urinary discomfort; and a clear, greenish, yellowish, or white vaginal discharge. Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is another possibility. A bacterial infection happens when the healthy lactobacilli get out of balance and grow too much. BV is treatable with an antibiotic.
- Rotten, like bad meat. A forgotten tampon can be the cause of a putrid vaginal odour. Apart from a very bad-smelling green, yellow, gray, pink, or brown discharge from the vagina, additional symptoms may also be experienced. These symptoms include fever, pain urinating, vaginal itching, pain around the pelvis or abdomen, vaginal swelling and redness around the genital area. Call your doctor if you are unable to retrieve the tampon easily and if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Symptoms of Vaginal Odor
The following symptoms, when accompanied by vaginal odor, may be a threat to your health.
- Irregular discharge
When to See a Doctor
If you regularly experience an excessive vaginal discharge or strong vaginal odor, it is recommended that you seek medical help. Your doctor will assess your medical history and ask you questions about the symptoms you experience. These questions may include – What is the color of your discharge? Do you douche? Do you have more than one sexual partner? Do you experience burning or itching around the vaginal area? Does it smell?
The doctor will then take the discharge sample or do a Pap test to collect a sample of your cervical cells. This will help your doctor examine and understand the cause of your vaginal odor.
If you’re experiencing itching or burning sensations around your vaginal area, you might want to seek a doctor’s help.
Remedies of Vaginal Odor
Doctors first identify the causes of vaginal odor and then suggest appropriate remedies or treatment. Remedies vary based on the cause. Your doctor may often prescribe antibiotics if you have infections like trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis.
Given below are some of the ways to help you regulate mild vaginal odor.
- Lose weight if you are obese.
- Wear cotton underwear as much as you can. Wearing loose clothes is recommended to limit moisture buildup and enhance the flow of air around your vagina.
- Practice a healthy lifestyle and ensure good hygiene. Wash your vaginal area with lukewarm water regularly.
- Limit foods that enhance the odor.
- Wipe the front and the back after bowel movements or urination. This can help prevent the bacteria from the anus from spreading to the vagina.
- Avpid the use of vaginal hygiene products, such as feminine creams and sprays that might irritate.
Treatment of Vaginal Odor
The treatment of vaginal odour entirely depends on the primary cause of the problem. For instance, trichomoniasis is treated with drugs prescribed by the doctor. Yeast infections are generally treated with antifungal medicines. These medicines are inserted inside the vagina in a gel or cream form or may be given orally.
There are some serious causes of strong vaginal odour. Hence, seeking medical help is crucial as doctors can determine the health of your reproductive system. In rare circumstances, a vaginal odour may indicate cancer. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests to diagnose the issue further.
Vaginal odor is considered normal. However, if linked to symptoms like itching, excessive discharge, and vaginal dryness, you must visit your doctor immediately. At times, hormonal changes are also responsible for strong vaginal odour.
Your doctor can help you analyze your condition by inquiring in detail about your symptoms. With relevant information, your doctor can treat a strong vaginal odor. You should avoid taking any medication for vaginal odour without your doctor’s advice as they might result in side effects, causing a threat to your health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why do I have a fishy vaginal smell?
The main reason may be bacterial infection if you have a fishy vaginal odor or notice any vaginal discharge. A common reason for a fishy smell is bacterial vaginosis.
Is intercourse during vaginal infection harmful?
Sexual intercourse when you have a vaginal inflammation or vaginal infection can be uncomfortable and painful. If your symptoms are serious, you should avoid vaginal intercourse. If the source of your vaginal infection is an (Sexually Transmitted Diseases )STD, it can also spread to your partner. If you have a vaginal infection, it is recommended for you to consult your doctor before having sexual intercourse with partner.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is the overgrowth of the commonly occurring bacteria in the vagina. This is one of the most widely reported vaginal infections resulting in vaginal odor. You must seek professional help and treat this with prescribed medication. The creams and gels prescribed by your doctor can help relieve the burning sensations caused around or inside the vaginal area.