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What's the Deal with Vaginal Discharge?

Andrea Blair Cirignano

Posted on August 18 2016

In-between periods should be a time to relax and not worry about downstairs for a bit, but most women are not this lucky. When we’re not dealing with a menstrual flow, we’re often dealing with a different sort of flow—discharge.

Typically, a healthy vaginal discharge is clear or white and absent of any smell but normal discharge can also be slightly yellow or have a faint odor without signaling a medical concern.

When should you worry?

According to Dr. Adeeti Gupta MD, FACOG and Gynecologist, you should be concerned when there are signs of vaginitis (the general term for inflammation or infection in the vaginal flora). These signs include a strong odor, especially if it’s fishy, if discharge is accompanied with itching or burning or if it appears greenish in color or clumpy like cottage cheese.

Not fun, but also not a reason for embarrassment since all of the above are just signs that the vaginal flora pH is out of whack for a wide variety of reasons. To be ‘regular,’ this area should be acidic but many factors can disrupt ideal pH levels.

True, sometimes sexual activity or a sexually transmitted disease can be the culprit, but it’s a common misconception that you must be ‘dirty’ to end up with these symptoms. Your pH can go off-balance from simply using certain soaps, perfumes or scented panty liners or even from certain medications and contraceptives. Some women are allergic to latex condoms and, while practicing safe sex, they might avoid an STD but still end up with a few scary signs that resemble one.

In addition, hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, during pregnancy and alongside menopause can all cause normal variations in the pH of vaginal flora so subtle changes here are there are to be expected. To keep pH (and therefore, discharge) under control, Dr. Gupta says, “Drink plenty of water and avoid excess simple carbohydrates like sugar and sweets… taking good probiotics can help heal the vaginal pH and restore balance for favorable bacteria to grow and avoid infections.”

Way too many women are self-diagnosing discharge-related symptoms. Because symptoms can mean so many different things, one should visit their healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis instead of trying to self-treat.

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