Pregnancy, changes in hormones, or the presence of an infection can also affect the consistency and amount of vaginal discharge.
Normally, vaginal discharge begins after a girl’s first period and has several functions. It naturally keeps the vagina clean, provides lubrication during intercourse, and can help prevent infection.
What is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge can be abnormal or normal. In many cases, this does not indicate a problem.
Normal vaginal discharge is clear, may be thick or thin, and is usually odorless. The amount and consistency produced during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle can change at different times.
For example, when a woman is ovulating, the discharge may be heavier, thicker, and more noticeable. At this point it may also be white.
The amount of discharge can also change due to sexual activity and the use of birth control.
Types of Vaginal Discharge
There are different types of vaginal discharge based on consistency and color. A change in the color, amount, or smell of vaginal discharge may indicate a problem.
In some cases, it is difficult to make a diagnosis based on vaginal discharge alone. Other symptoms such as irritation, itching, or burning are often better indicators of a problem.
Below are the different types of vaginal discharge and their possible causes.
Different colors of white discharge can be common, especially if it occurs during ovulation or before a woman’s period. Unless the vagina is accompanied by itching, burning, or an unusual odor, there probably isn’t an underlying problem.
But in other cases, white discharge from the vagina can be a sign of infection. If the discharge is irregular and resembles cottage cheese, it may be due to a yeast infection.
A yeast infection can also cause vaginal itching and burning. It is caused by an overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida.
Thin, white vaginal discharge with a strong fishy odor may indicate bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44. Other symptoms may include burning on urination and vaginal itching.
A yellow discharge may or may not indicate an infection. If the discharge is pale yellow, odorless, and not accompanied by other symptoms, it may not be a cause for concern.
In other cases, a yellow discharge can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a bacterial infection.
Causes of yellow discharge include:
Trichomoniasis, which can cause itching, pain during urination, and an unpleasant odor.
Chlamydia, which often has no symptoms.
Clear vaginal discharge is usually normal. However, this amount can vary during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle and between individuals.
For example, clear discharge may be prolonged and may have a consistency of egg whites during ovulation.
Precautions can sometimes prevent abnormal discharge:
- Practice safer sex by using condoms, limiting the number of sexual partners, and getting tested for STIs regularly.
- Avoid douching, which can destroy the good bacteria that help prevent vaginal infections.
- Use unscented soaps, tampons and pads. Scented or strong products can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, increasing the risk of infection.
- Wear cotton underwear, which absorbs moisture and can prevent yeast infections.
Vaginal discharge is often normal, but there are instances when the color, amount, or consistency of discharge may indicate a problem.