Maintaining vaginal health helps maintain your overall health, too. If you have responsible, safer sex and bathe regularly, your vagina should maintain itself through its own self-cleaning mechanisms.
Both your vagina and your cervix (the opening to your uterus that extends into the vagina) create fluids that cleanse and lubricate your vaginal tissues. These fluids are secreted from tiny glands in the walls of your vagina and cervix.
The fluids wash away bacteria, old cells, and other debris. They also help maintain the proper pH (i.e., balance of acids to bases) in your vagina.
When your vagina is healthy, it doesn’t need any assistance in maintaining its cleanliness; it’s a self-cleansing organ. That’s why douches and other vaginal cleansing products aren’t recommended.
When you menstruate, your vaginal discharge is red or brownish. But most of the time, it should be either clear or off-white in color. Changes in your vaginal discharge may be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other condition that requires medical treatment.
At Elite Gynecology in New York City, our caring and knowledgeable gynecologists, Molly McBride, MD, and Tamara Guichard, MD, encourage you to pay attention to your vaginal fluids. You can recognize STIs, UTIs, and yeast infections as soon as possible by staying alert to vaginal discharge.
When is your vaginal discharge normal, and when should you call your OB/GYN? Following are the changes that need attention and evaluation.
The volume of discharge has increased
Pay attention to the usual amount of discharge you experience. The exact volume varies by individual. You probably experience variations in the amount depending on where you are in your cycle. But if you suddenly have much more than usual, please give us a call.
Do note, though, that any hormonal changes could also affect your discharge. If you're pregnant or use hormonal birth control, such as the pill or insert, that could affect the amount of discharge your vagina produces.
The color of your discharge has changed
Unless you’re menstruating, the color of your discharge should range from almost clear to off-white. If you notice reddish or brownish discharge before or after your period, you may have changes to your cycle that need evaluation.
Changes in color that require attention include:
- Yellow or green — could be an STI
- Gray — could be bacterial vaginosis
- Pink — could be cervical bleeding or other abnormal bleeding
- White — possibly normal but possibly a yeast infection
- Red or brown — outside of your period, could be a sign of infection or cancer
In addition to changes in colors, pay attention to changes in textures, too. For instance, white discharge may be normal unless it’s thick, cottage cheesy, or excessive.
The discharge has a strong smell
Normal healthy discharge has a very light odor. If your discharge starts to smell strongly, or if it has a foul odor, you may have an infection.
Another type of smell that should put you on alert is a yeasty smell. If your vagina smells like bread dough or beer, you could have a yeast infection.
The texture of the discharge has changed
Healthy vaginal discharge is thin and may leave a slight crusty area on your underpants. However, if your discharge is unusually thick, or if it has the texture of cottage cheese, you may have an infection.
You feel itchy or uncomfortable
Whether you’ve noticed any changes in your discharge or not, if your vulva or vagina is itchy, painful, or uncomfortable, please contact us immediately. If itchiness and discomfort are accompanied by changes in your vaginal discharge, the chances are high that you have some sort of infection or other condition that needs medical attention.
Many STIs and other infections, such as yeast infections, can be cured with antibiotics or other medications. Even in the cases of incurable infections, such as herpes or HIV, early detection reduces the chance of complications and helps symptoms become more manageable.
What is your discharge telling you? If it’s sending you warning signs that could indicate an STI or other condition, contact our office nearest you — in Midtown East, Murray Hill, New York City, or Forest Hills, New York. You can also use our online appointment button, or stop by our virtual UTI lab.