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Quick Facts

Vaginal Discharge

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is fluid that comes out of your vagina (birth canal).

Is vaginal discharge normal?

All women have some vaginal discharge at times. Normal vaginal discharge is milky white or thin and clear, without any smell.

When is vaginal discharge abnormal?

Vaginal discharge is abnormal if it is:

  • Heavier or thicker than usual

  • White and clumpy (like cottage cheese)

  • Gray, green, yellow, or slightly bloody

  • Smelly, like fish

With abnormal vaginal discharge, you may also have itching, burning, a rash, or soreness in your vulva (the area outside the opening to the vagina).

What causes abnormal vaginal discharge?

There aren't really any dangerous causes of vaginal discharge.

The most common cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge is:

  • An infection in your vagina—yeast infections or sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia

Other causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:

  • Creams, powders, soaps, or other items that touch and irritate your vulva

  • If you are past menopause, having a thin and dry vagina

Causes of vaginal discharge in childreninclude:

  • An infection due to wiping poorly or not washing hands after passing stool (pooping)

  • Chemicals in bubble baths or soaps

  • Something stuck in the vagina, like a piece of toilet paper or a toy

  • Sexual abuse

When should I see a doctor?

See a doctor within a day if you have vaginal discharge and any of these warning signs:

  • Intense belly or pelvic pain, or pain that lasts more than 2 hours

  • Discharge that looks like pus

  • Fever

  • Stool (poop) in your vaginal discharge

  • A bloody discharge after menopause

A child with a fever or yellow or green discharge that smells fishy could have an STD (sexually transmitted disease), possibly from sexual abuse. Take this child to a doctor that day.

See a doctor within a few days if you have abnormal discharge but no warning signs.

Yeast infection

If you've had yeast infections before, you probably don't need to see a doctor every time you have the typical symptoms, unless you also have other symptoms. Typical symptoms are a thick, white, and clumpy discharge and itching and burning in your vulva.

What will happen when I go to the doctor?

Doctors will ask questions about your vaginal discharge and any other symptoms.

Doctors typically do a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, your doctor looks inside your vagina, holding it open with a small instrument called a speculum. Doctors may use a cotton swab to take a sample of the discharge for testing.

How do doctors treat abnormal vaginal discharge?

Doctors treat the cause of your discharge, if they can. For example, if you have an infection caused by bacteria, doctors will give you antibiotics to take by mouth.

If you’re feeling sore and itchy, doctors may also suggest you:

  • Keep your vulva as clean as possible

  • Put ice packs on your vulva

  • Soak in a warm bathtub

  • Stop using creams, powders, soaps, or other items that irritate your vulva

  • Apply medicines (such as a corticosteroid cream)