Expert Health Articles

Vaginal Discharge: What Is Normal?

Vaginal discharge is the fluid or mucous that comes from the vagina. This is a common concern among women and leads many to see their healthcare provider. Vaginal discharge can be normal unless it occurs with itching, burning, or other bothersome symptoms. Different causes of vaginal discharge can cause similar symptoms. It is recommended to seek examination to determine the cause of a vaginal discharge.

Vaginal discharge is made by skin cells of the vagina and cervix with the influence of the female hormone, estrogen. Prepubescent and menopausal women typically have minimal discharge due to lower estrogen levels. Premenopausal women (time menses starts until menopause) normally have approximately one-half to one teaspoon (2 to 5 mL) of white or clear thick, mucous-like, and mostly odorless vaginal discharge every day. The amount can vary at different times throughout the menstrual cycle-related to hormonal fluctuations. Increases in discharge can be more noticeable at certain times, such as pregnancy, use of hormonal contraception (birth control pills, patch, vaginal ring, etc.), near ovulation, and the week before the menstrual period. Normally, discharge contains vaginal skin cells, bacteria, mucous, and fluid produced in the vagina and cervix. A normal discharge may have a slight odor and may cause mild intermittent irritation to the vulva. The discharge helps protect the vagina and urinary tract against infections and provides lubrication to the vaginal tissues.

Vaginal discharge can be common and normal. However, vaginal discharge with the following symptoms is not normal and should be evaluated by your health care provider. The symptoms include but are not limited to: Itching of the vulva, vaginal opening or labia, redness, burning, soreness, or swelling, foamy or greenish-yellow discharge, bad odor, blood-tinged vaginal discharge, pain with intercourse or urination, and abdominal or pelvic pain.

The most common causes of vaginal discharge are vaginal infection (yeast or bacterial infection, trichomonas), the body’s reaction to a foreign body (such as a forgotten tampon or condom) or substance (soap or spermicide), or changes that occur after menopause can cause vaginal dryness, especially during sex, as well as a watery vaginal discharge or other symptoms.

A physical examination and testing of vaginal discharge are the most accurate way to determine the cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge. Contact your healthcare provider for further evaluation of any abnormal discharge or vaginal symptoms.

You can do daily habits to promote healthy vaginal hygiene, such as using water or unscented plain bar soap to wash genitalia and prohibiting from douching or using feminine hygiene products. While bathing, avoid hot water with scented products. Instead, try to use plain warm water.

Additionally, choose to wear cotton underwear, avoiding thongs or lycra underwear. Lastly, avoid using pantyliners daily, tight-fitting or restrictive clothing, and avoid any scented products vaginally.

Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions or concerns. Please contact them with concerns.

Abby Maas, APRN-CNP
Blanchard Valley Obstetrics & Gynecology