Did you know that all women's vaginas have a natural scent that is unique to their bodies, including yours? It's incredible that we all have our own special fragrance! And before we start getting into the low-down on vaginal odors, just remember: there is nothing wrong with naturally having a smell coming from your vagina. However, sometimes smells can help you determine and diagnose certain conditions.
Our vaginas also have a natural way of cleaning themselves, with a delicate discharge that is easy to wash away from your body and your underwear, and explains our usual smell. However, if the pH of your vagina changes or you've been exposed to a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI), the odor of your vagina may change. STIs can be scary, but they're also super easy to prevent and treat. Remember, most women experience some kind of unusual vaginal order at least once, so you're not alone!
Let's talk about the different types of smells that can come from the vagina, what they mean, and how to care for your "down there."
What Causes My Vagina To Smell Differently?
There could be several reasons why you might experience a different or bad smell coming from your vagina. One of the main reasons you may get a bad smell down below is that something has thrown off your natural pH levels. A balanced pH keeps the naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts in the vagina living in harmony together.
However, if you've been taking antibiotics or have had unprotected sex, the good bacteria can get overtaken by the bad ones that cause bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and STIs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Trichomoniasis. All of these conditions are surprisingly easy to treat. When you catch them early and treat them with properly prescribed medication, they generally clear up quickly.
What Do These Different Vaginal Odors Mean?
Each unusual smell has a cause. These are the most common odors and where they come from:
If you notice a distinct fishy smell coming from your vagina or underwear, that's usually an indication of Bacterial Vaginosis, which is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria Gardnerella vaginalis. Gardnerella is normally found in the vagina and is kept in check by good vaginal flora called Lactobacilli. When Gardnerella overgrows, you might notice a fishy smell along with a burning sensation when you pee or have intercourse.
If you find discharge in your underwear that kind of looks like curd or cottage cheese and smells a bit like baking yeast or bread, it's probably caused by a Yeast Infection. The yeast, Candida, naturally grows in the vagina without causing any problems. However, when Candida starts to overgrow, you can end up with a yeast infection. Signs and symptoms are usually the discharge, a yeasty smell, itching and burning when you pee or have intercourse.
Many women say that when they're on their period, their vagina smells a bit like a copper penny. Blood contains iron, which often has a slightly metallic smell to it. As long as the bleeding is normal for you, you shouldn't be concerned with a coppery smell. If the bleeding is unusual, consult with your doctor right away.
If you notice a smell like a freshly cleaned bathroom, or something similar to Lysol, that could indicate ammonia buildup. Urine contains ammonia, and if you're dehydrated, your urine could smell stronger.
A foul smell is not typical and requires medical evaluation right away. Often, a Trichomoniasis Infection, which is sexually transmitted, causes a foul-smelling green or grayish discharge with itching and burning.
The groin area has lots of sweat glands. The apocrine sweat glands in your armpit and groin produce a pungent-smelling fluid when you're sweating or under stress. When the fluid mixes with the natural vaginal bacteria, you may notice a skunky smell. Once you finish sweating and rinse off, the odor should go away.
A rotten smell coming from your vagina should raise a red flag and needs to be addressed immediately. As with a foul smell, rotten smells can indicate that something is off. Don't be scared of this! You may notice this odor when you're on your period. The smell often comes from a mixture of blood and vaginal bacteria. Sometimes, a rotten smell can come from a forgotten tampon left inside of your vagina. On light days, it's easy to forget that you put one in, and after several hours may make your vagina smell bad. Just remove the tampon and let your vagina naturally flush the smell away.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If at any time you feel uncomfortable with the smell of your vagina or have unusual discharge, consult with a doctor at Wisp. Our doctors will ask you some questions, and once they determine the cause of the smell, they will prescribe medication to treat it, if needed. The medicine can be picked up at your local pharmacy, or we will ship it to your home in discreet packaging, so no one in your house has to know you are taking it.
What Are the Treatments For Infections?
Common vaginal infections are super easy to treat! Once our doctors make a diagnosis, we'll get you the right medicine. Bacterial Vaginosis, Chlamydia and Trichomoniasis are treated with antibiotics, and Yeast Infections are treated with anti-fungal medication. Both are simple to use and generally get rid of the infection quickly. Our doctors might also recommend a daily probiotic to restore your gut flora, especially during, or after antibiotic treatment.
If I Have BV, Do I Have an STD?
Although BV is treated by antibiotics, BV is not a sexually transmitted disease. It's a bacterial infection that does not seem to be directly related to sex. That being said, exposure to the semen and saliva of another person can affect your vagina's ecosystem (your natural balance of healthy and unhealthy organisms) and increase your chances of getting BV. One major thing to take note of is that having BV can increase your chances of contracting an actual STD. Any kind of infection can cause inflammation which makes your tissues more susceptible to invasion by foreign bacteria and viruses. It's so important to speak with your doctor and treat your BV with proven medication to ensure it goes away completely.
What Can I Do To Keep My Vagina Healthy and Smelling Like Me?
The following tips can help you prevent unusual vaginal odors and keep your vagina healthy:
- Avoid douching. The vagina naturally cleans itself and keeps a pH balance that helps to prevent an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. Douching can alter your pH levels and may cause an overgrowth that can lead to a bacterial or yeast infection.
- Use condoms. One of the best ways to protect yourself from unwanted bacteria is to use condoms when having any kind of sex.
- Wipe from front to back. After using the toilet, wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria.
- Wear cotton underwear. Bacteria often thrive in anaerobic (without air) conditions. Synthetic fabrics can trap moisture and warmth, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. Cotton underwear lets your “down there” parts breathe.
- Wash before and after sex. Either shower or wash gently with a washcloth before and after sex. You can use wisp’s Balancing Wash, a doctor-approved wash that’s perfect for the delicate skin of your vulva. Use a little bit with warm water on external genital skin and rinse thoroughly to keep things clean and avoid irritation.
- Stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet. Drinking water helps to keep ammonia buildup under control, and eating well can help the vagina retain a balanced pH.
Your vagina is a wonderful part of your body. Embrace your unique vaginal scent and pay attention to any unusual smells or symptoms. If you want to talk with someone about your vaginal odor, don't hesitate to reach out to our friendly and professional doctors and staff here at wisp. We are here for you and are happy to speak with you at any time.
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