Is this smell normal?
Dear Dr Mitchell,
I know that doctors say that all vaginas smell and that is supposed to be normal, but I find my normal smell very off-putting. I don’t have any issues at all (I have been cleared by doctors), but I’m just not happy with my smell or the amount of discharge I have daily. I always wear a panty shield, but even after I shower at night, for example, an hour or so after, I have heavy discharge and feel like I haven’t showered. And in the morning when I wake up, I just feel unclean. Is there anything that can keep me dry?
A persistent odour from the vagina is not normal. It is also not normal to have excessive vaginal discharge with the need to be always wearing panty shields.
A normal vaginal discharge usually does not have an offensive odour. A greyish white, fishy odour vaginal discharge is usually suggestive of bacterial vaginosis. A greenish yellow, fishy smelling vaginal discharge is in keeping with trichomonas infection, which is sexually transmitted. If you have a yellow, pus-like discharge, this could be a sign of gonorrhoea or chlamydia infection, which is definitely sexually transmitted. The odour may also actually be a sign of a urinary tract infection, which can cause leakage of urine and persistent wetness.
A foreign body, such as a tampon forgotten in the vagina, can also cause a foul odour and excessive vaginal discharge. A yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis) can also cause a watery discharge and itching of the vagina and vulval areas but is not usually associated with a bad odour. In some cases you can have a mixed yeast and bacterial vaginosis infection which will then present with the excessive discharge and the fishy odour from the vagina.
The discharge may be as a result of cancer in the cervix, uterus, or Fallopian tubes. It is important to get a complete physical examination including a Pap smear, swabs taken from the vagina and cervix, and a pelvic ultrasound done.
A cervical biopsy and also testing samples taken from the lining of the uterus will help in determining the underlying cause of the persistent vaginal discharge and the odour.
A blood glucose and a test for sexually transmitted infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and syphillis should also be done.
Your sexual partner should also have a comprehensive screening for sexually transmitted infections and should be treated and counselled if deemed necessary.
You should use a condom (male or female) to reduce your risk of recurrent infections. It is also important to get the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. This will reduce your risk of persistent human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which is the cause of cervical cancer.
You should not douche or try to manage the problem on your own. This will only aggravate the problem.
Consult your gynaecologist who will advise your further.
Dr Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to email@example.com; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5 or fax to 876-968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to medical advice or treatment from your own doctor.