Here’s how to know when it warrants a doctor 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 what this stuff is. For the veterans, you know that it’s just your vaginal discharge, doing its daily thing.
What’s a normal amount of vaginal discharge?
To put it simply, it's normal to have daily discharge. The vagina has to remain lubricated, and as a result, you may have secretions that end up 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.
What are signs of abnormal discharge?
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): Green or yellow discharge — when accompanied with pain — could be a sign of a gonorrhea or chlamydia infection.
- Vaginal yeast infection: Thick, white, and itchy discharge is a sign of a yeast infection.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): Bacterial vaginosis is when there’s an 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.
When should you see a doctor?
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.
Dr. Wu is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in New York City.
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It can be very normal to
have daily discharge.
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The vagina is a moist place,
it needs to stay moist, and so
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these secretions sometimes
will get on your underwear.
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A little bit of discharge
every day is very normal and
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at times during your cycle you can have
a lot of it, say when you are ovulating.
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I tell patients to worry, though, if it
is very itchy or it has an odor to it.
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Normal vaginal secretions can be clear,
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they can be a little bit white,
even a little yellow.
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They can be thicker or thinner depending
on the timing of your cycle, but
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it shouldn't be thick or chunky.
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It shouldn't be very itchy,
it shouldn't be green, and
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it should have a fishy odor to it.
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At times when there's an overgrowth
of the normal bacteria in the vagina,
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then you can have an imbalance.
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And it can result in a discharge that is
very fishy odor and this is something
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called bacterial vaginosis which
we usually treat with antibiotics.
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When the discharge is thick and white and
itchy this may indicate a yeast infection
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which can be easily treated
with antifungal medication.
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A discharge that is green or yellow
accompanied with pain could indicate
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a gonorrhea or chlamydia infection.
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Most women come to their doctor
to ask about their discharge and
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whether it's normal or
if they have an infection.
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They often are very worried about it and I
think it is an important topic to discuss
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with your doctor at least for reassurance.
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Overview of Vaginal Infections. Kenilworth, NJ. Merck Manuals, Consumer Version. (Accessed on October 14, 2021 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. Bethesda, MD. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (Accessed on October 14, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003158.htm)