When it comes to vaginal discharge, what’s typical for you might not be typical for your friend or even your sister. And not only are there differences between women, there are also variations depending on factors like your age and where you are in your menstrual cycle. All in all, this can make it difficult to know what’s normal. For example, how can you tell if any changes you notice are just the result of hormonal shifts or if they might be a sign of an infection? To help you get to grips with this potentially confusing topic, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions.
Should I expect to have vaginal discharge every day?
Many women experience vaginal discharge every day, but others have it less frequently. It can also become heavier and lighter at various points throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. Generally, women experience a small amount of clear or white discharge that doesn’t have a strong odour and this is considered normal.
What does discharge mean?
Vaginal discharge can tell you more than you might realise. A fluid produced by the glands inside your vagina and cervix, it helps to protect your intimate area from infection. Healthy discharge can be clear or white in colour while the consistency can be slippery and wet or thick and sticky. The amount you produce will depend on a range of factors. For example, it’s common to get heavier discharge if you’re sexually active, on birth control or pregnant. Also, you may notice more of it, and it may become clear and have an egg white consistency, around the time you ovulate. These changes in colour and thickness are completely normal and are associated with your cycle.
However, other changes may indicate an infection that requires treatment.
Is white discharge normal?
Although white discharge is normal, if the consistency of the fluid is very thick and cottage cheese-like, this could be a sign that you have Thrush. A yeast infection that can also cause itching, as well as stinging when you urinate or have sex.
What other warning signs should I know about?
There are other changes to watch out for in your discharge too. For example, if you notice an unpleasant fishy odour and the fluid becomes thin and watery and greyish-white in appearance, you might have Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). This is caused by an imbalance of vaginal bacteria and it’s usually treated with antibiotics or gels and creams.
If you experience yellow, green or frothy discharge, you might have Trichomoniasis. This is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that’s caused by a tiny parasite. As well as changing the colour of discharge, it can also give it a fishy smell. The usual treatment for Trichomoniasis is a course of antibiotics.
Other STIs, including Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, can also cause changes to discharge, sometimes accompanied by pelvic pain or bleeding.
If you notice anything unusual about your discharge and you think you may have an infection, it’s important to see your medical professional and get tested.
Is it normal to have some discharge after menopause?
The amount of oestrogen in your body affects how much vaginal discharge you produce. After the menopause when your levels of oestrogen fall, it’s common to produce less of this fluid - but it’s still perfectly normal to have some.
The menopause can affect discharge in less direct ways too. Because this fluid plays a role in helping to cleanse the vagina and promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria, a lack of it can cause harmful bacteria to grow. In turn, this can increase your risk of developing infections such as BV, which can change the odour, colour and consistency of your vaginal discharge in the ways previously outlined.
How to avoid an infection
No matter what stage of life you’re at, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of getting one of these infections. For example, avoid using overly scented products like body wash, bath liquid or deodorant in your intimate area. Instead, use a gentle soap-free wash foam. Steer clear of scented toilet paper or sanitary towels too. You should also choose loose fitting, cotton underwear, and don’t use harsh detergents when washing your underwear. To avoid STIs, always use a condom - especially with a new sexual partner.
Learn what’s typical for you
By paying attention to your vaginal discharge so that you learn to recognise what’s normal for you, you should be able to spot any warning signs early and get tested and treated quickly if necessary.