A Guide to Vaginal Discharge: What the Color and Consistency Actually MeanJun 14, 2022 03:00PM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Vaginal discharge plays an important role in keeping you healthy. Vaginal discharge may be many colors and consistencies and may change throughout the month. Most vaginal discharge is normal, but sometimes certain colors may also be an indication of a problem that needs treatment. Unusual or atypical vaginal discharge differs in color, consistency, smell, or quantity compared to your usual discharge. It is common to wonder whether the color or consistency of vaginal discharge is normal or needs to be checked out so here is a guide to vaginal discharge so you know exactly when to worry about what’s going on down there.
It’s important to know that all vaginas secrete fluids. Glands in your vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid that flow out of your body every day. These fluids lubricate the vagina. Normal discharge also helps to clean the vagina by removing old cells. These fluids don't usually have any odor at all.
They look clear or milky. Sometimes, you may notice a fluid that is thin and stringy. It may be slippery or have the consistency of egg whites, especially just before and around ovulation. Typical discharge can be odorless or have a smell, but it’s usually mild and not unpleasant. It’s also the go-to discharge a healthy body expels to rebalance itself — because the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Remember if you use hormonal birth control, these typical patterns of vaginal discharge will stop, as the hormonal cycling is stopped.
A variety of white shades of discharge, from eggshell to cream, can be common. Unless your discharge is accompanied by certain textures or smells, don’t fret too much. White discharge can also indicate the presence of a yeast infection. Yeast infections are extremely common and they are caused by the presence of a form of yeast called candida. Symptoms of a yeast infection include an itchy vagina or vulva, redness and swelling in the vulva and vagina, and a burning feeling when urinating. These symptoms may also be accompanied by a discharge that is white, thick, and usually has a consistency like cottage cheese.
Yellow and Green Discharge
A very light yellow discharge is more common than you might think. Sometimes the color is daffodil yellow. If the discharge has a very slight yellow hue, it may not indicate a problem. This is especially likely if the hue only coincides with a change in diet or dietary supplements. Some people report this color change occurring whenever they take new vitamins or try certain foods. If a person experiences yellow-colored discharge that also includes odor, a change in consistency, and symptoms such as pain, itchiness, or painful urination, it could be a sign of a bacterial infection such as chlamydia.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection and it may be symptom-free or may cause discharge that is yellow and cloudy. Green discharge is never a normal form of discharge. It indicates the presence of an infection. Several types of infection may cause discharge to become green, have a bad odor, and become clumpy. These infections may include yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis, which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite. It can sometimes cause a fishy odor. A person may also experience other symptoms such as burning while urinating, odor, itchiness, or pain during vaginal intercourse.
Red, Pink, or Brown Discharge
Red or brown discharge can appear at various times in the menstrual cycle. Some women may experience discharge or spotting in the days before and after their periods start and finish. A brownish color discharge typically occurs following a person’s period, as old blood leaves the uterus. Pink discharge is commonly seen at the beginning or end of your period and it can also be associated with small amounts of vaginal or cervical spotting.
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix. The large majority of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Typically, early-stage cervical cancer has no symptoms. But discharge may be a sign of cervical cancer. This discharge may be brown or pink, watery, pale, have blood and be smelly.
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause. For a yeast infection, you can get OTC Monistat (clotrimazole), but you may want to see your healthcare provider before self-treating. For bacterial vaginosis, you'll need a prescription. Usually, your healthcare provider will prescribe metronidazole gel. If you think you have an STI, you need to see a healthcare professional. Healthy discharge helps keep the vagina clean, ward off infections, and provide lubrication. It changes with your body’s needs. To keep your vagina healthy, avoid douching, avoid soap on your vulva and in your vagina altogether), after going to the toilet, wiping from front to back to avoid spreading germs, use a fresh barrier tool (like a condom) if switching from anal to vaginal activity during sex, and wear breathable cotton underwear.
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Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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