Here’s how to know when it warrants a doc visit.
As you sit on the toilet, you glance down and notice a bit of, er, something on your underwear. It’s mostly white in color with a hint of yellow, and kinda looks like … snot. If this is a new discovery, you may be wondering, um, what the heck is this stuff?! For the veterans, you know that it’s just your good ol’ vaginal discharge, doing its daily thing.
What’s a Normal Amount of Vaginal Discharge?
“It can be very normal to have daily discharge,” says Jennifer Wu, MD, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital. “The vagina is a moist place, and it needs to stay moist and these secretions will get on your underwear.”
Vaginal discharge is naturally produced by glands in the cervix and the walls of the vagina. It starts off as a clear mucus, then often turns white or yellow when exposed to air.
The amount of discharge that comes out of your vagina can vary, depending on hormone changes in the body. This means you may see an increase in discharge during ovulation, pregnancy, and even when you’re sexually aroused. Vaginal secretions can be thicker or thinner depending on the timing of your cycle as well, says Dr. Wu.
When Vaginal Discharge Is NOT Normal
Even if you notice gook on your underwear on the regular, it’s important to know that not all vaginal secretions are created equal. If your discharge looks or smells different than usual, it could be a sign of an infection or other health issue. In general, vaginal discharge is considered abnormal if it’s:
- Heavier than usual
- Thicker than usual
- White and clumpy (like cottage cheese)
- Grayish, greenish, yellowish, or blood-tinged
- Foul- or fishy-smelling
- Accompanied by itching, burning, a rash, or soreness
These vaginal discharge symptoms could be signs of:
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI): “A discharge that’s green or yellow accompanied with pain could indicate a gonorrhea or chlamydia infection,” says Dr. Wu.
- Vaginal yeast infection: “When the discharge is thick and white, and itchy, this may indicate a yeast infection, which can be easily treated with antifungal medication,” says Dr. Wu.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): Bacterial vaginosis is when there’s a overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina. This can cause discharge to be a gray color and have a fishy odor. Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics.
- Menopause and low estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, which can trigger vaginal discharge and soreness, itching, or burning. Here are other causes of vaginal dryness.
If you notice any changes in your vaginal discharge, or if you’re feeling any itching or burning around your vagina (which could be a symptom of a UTI), see your doctor.
“Most women come to their doctor to ask about their discharge. Whether it’s normal or they have an infection, they’re often very worried about it,” says Dr. Wu. “I think it is an important topic to discuss with your doctor. At least for reassurance.”
Overview of Vaginal Infections. Merck Manuals, Consumer Version. (Accessed on April 24, 2018 at https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/vaginal-infections-and-pelvic-inflammatory-disease/overview-of-vaginal-infections)
Vaginal itching and discharge - adult and adolescent. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (Accessed on April 24, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003158.htm)