What Is vaginal discharge?
Discharge is a liquid that comes from the vagina, which often also contains dead cells from the cervix. This liquid is constantly flowing through the vagina, and therefore you’ll normally see some level of discharge on a daily basis.
It’s a secretion that helps keep the vagina moist and healthy. This liquid is formed in the mucous membranes in healthy vaginas, and it usually has a clear or milky colour.
The secretion contains lactic acid bacteria, and therefore your discharge generally has a low pH of 3.8-4.2 on an acid base scale. It is the lactic acid bacteria that maintain the acidic conditions in the vagina.
Along with lactic acid bacteria, the discharge also consists of other microorganisms that help protect against vaginal inflammation. An acidic environment inhibits the growth of bacteria that can be pathogenic (infectious).
Do All Women Have Discharge, And Is It Normal to Have Discharge Every Day?
All women of all ages are experiencing discharge – it is quite normal. For most people, the discharge starts a couple of years before puberty and continues all the way through life until several years after menopause.
However, the amount of fluid that’s discharged can vary from person to person. In some women, it is just a small amount of fluid, while in others it can be a significant problem.
Some women feel like wearing a pad because their panties constantly feel wet with vaginal fluid. This applies to up to one fifth of women of childbearing age.
It is normal for women to have discharge, but it is difficult to determine exactly what amount is normal – precisely because it varies from woman to woman.
Just as it is quite normal for all women to have discharge, it is also quite normal to have it every day. However, the amount of discharge may also vary from day to day. While one day you may have a lot of discharge, you could find there’s very little discharge on the next.
It all depends on where in your menstrual cycle you are.
For example, you may experience increased excretion in your ovulation period because it is a way for your body to trace the seminal cells pathway to the ovaries.
But the short and long of it is; all women have some level of discharge.
Why Do You Get Discharge?
Discharging fluid is a way for your body to protect itself. The secretion is a natural and self-cleaning part of the female system. You will therefore get discharge as a defence mechanism for your vagina and your cervix.
The microorganisms and lactic acid bacteria that live in the vagina are like soldiers that prevent harmful bacteria from penetrating to the fallopian tube, ovaries and uterus.
Therefore, discharge is a very important part of a well-functioning body. Discharge keeps you clean and free of harmful bacteria that can attack and infect the mucus membranes in the vagina. But even though the “soldiers” are guarding and protecting your vagina against bacteria, there are various reasons why they may fail and harmful bacteria will persevere.
This can lead to an infection in the vagina.
Reasons for Change in Your Discharge
We cannot define what the normal amount of discharge is for a woman, as it is different from person to person. Therefore, you need to closely monitor any changes in the amount of discharge to tell if something is wrong. There may be changes in the amount of discharge and its texture, or you might find there to be changes in the discharge colour. Normal discharge is a clear or white colour, which varies from a water consistency to a more slimy and sticky consistency.
Therefore, you should keep an eye on your discharge so that you notice immediately if there are any sudden changes. These changes may be your body’s signal that something is wrong. Below you can find an overview of the different reasons for a change in discharge.
Why Is My Discharge Brown and What does brown discharge mean?
There may be many reasons why your discharge suddenly turns a brownish colour in your panties. The brown colour typically occurs when the discharge contains a small amount of blood. It is quite normal at the end of your menstrual period, for example, when the vagina cleans out the last blood so that it can return to “normal” condition.
However, if you experience brown discharge that does not occur in continuation of your menstrual period, it may in many cases be an indication that you are pregnant. Brown discharge often occurs in connection with pregnancy bleeding.
Bleeding and the resulting brownish discharge is normal for many women in the early stages of pregnancy. However, if bleeding continues and the brown discharge increases in the 37th week of pregnancy, consult a doctor as it may indicate complications.
If you experience brown discharge and you have recently had unprotected sex, it is often a good idea to take a pregnancy test. On the other hand, if you are not pregnant, you should check with your doctor. Brown discharge can be a symptom of underlying diseases such as ovarian or cervical cancer. It isn’t always a sign of cancer, but to rule out the possibility, consult your doctor.
Why Does My Discharge Smell?
You may also experience changes in your discharge odour, often accompanied by changes in colour and texture. It is quite normal, however, that vaginal discharge has a mild, acidic odour. But if the odour begins to get more pungent, it may be due to an infection in the vagina. Therefore, you have no reason to worry if your discharge has a weak smell, as it is due to the acidic conditions in the vagina. But stronger smells that become more pungent can be a sign of a problem in your vagina and you should have it checked out by a doctor.
What Infections or Bacteria Can Change My Discharge?
There may be many reasons why your discharge changes. Sometime causes are quite harmless, while other times the change can be an indication of a more serious condition. Therefore, again, it is important to point out that you should be closely monitoring any changes in your discharge and other symptoms that might occur over time.
An imbalance of the natural bacteria and microorganisms in the vagina can cause an increase in discharge and a change in consistency, odour and colour. Bacterial vaginosis will cause an imbalance in the vagina, characterised by uncomfortable, grey coloured discharge and a pungent smell. The smell is described as a fishy odour, which typically becomes more intense after intercourse.
When the smell is amplified after sex, it is usually caused by the acidic discharge mixing with semen. In cases of bacterial vaginosis, levels of lactic acid bacteria and microorganisms are reduced, so some bacteria can multiply more than others. It is often the ‘Gardnerella vaginalis’ bacteria that multiplies most in these conditions, creating an imbalance in the vagina.
Unprotected sex, where the sperm contributes to the imbalance of the natural acids, can be a cause of bacterial vaginosis, but it can also be due to hormonal changes. This uncomfortable condition is generally well-known and more than 1/3 of all women have at some point experienced it, although it tends to affect older women more.
Vaginal Fungal Infections
Fungal and yeast infections are another common reason for changes in discharge. In these cases, the discharge is typically white, grainy and lumpy – almost cottage cheese-like. In the vast majority of fungal cases, the cause of the infection is “Candida albicans” which causes the bacterial balance in the vagina to change. Yeasts grow naturally on the mucous membranes within the vagina, alongside the microorganisms and lactic acid bacteria, but when the levels of bacteria become imbalanced, this creates the perfect conditions for yeast fungi to grow and take over.
Yeast infections are very common in women of all ages, but this makes it no less uncomfortable. Just like with bacterial vaginosis, the natural bacterial balance can be changed if semen comes into contact with the acidic discharge. When this happens, levels of lactic acid bacteria can decrease in the vagina. This gives the fungi more room to multiply.
However, uncomfortable problems with excretion can also occur in connection with pregnancy, diabetes or antibiotic treatments for unrelated conditions. In fact, antibiotic treatments are the main cause of fungal infections in the vagina. Antibiotics reduce the levels of friendly bacteria that keep the naturally occurring amounts of fungi down the vagina. Without those bacteria, fungi have free reign to multiply and grow.
Vaginal fungus infections may also cause a white, thick and lumpy discharge accompanied by itching and burning sensations when urinating and during intercourse. When it comes to sex, there is a chance that you, as a woman, can actually infect your partner with a fungal infection through sex, although it is very rare. But, on the other hand, he cannot infect you. Because of this, fungal infections are not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases; it is a bacterial infection of the genitals. The infection can occur both in the urethra, rectum and cervix. Chlamydia infections may first appear as increased amounts of discharge, as is also often associated with soreness during sex and especially during urination. Many compare the painful symptoms of chlamydia to the feeling of being cut by glass. Furthermore, the infection can cause pain within your abdomen too.
If you have increased discharge and some of the other symptoms described, it is a good idea to get examined by your doctor. However, in many cases chlamydia doesn’t present any symptoms at all, and therefore more people have it without realising. Untreated chlamydia can, in the worst cases, lead to infertility. Therefore, if you have unprotected sex, you should be regularly tested for chlamydia so you can treat it in time.
If your discharge suddenly changes in odour and colour, it might also be due to Trichomonas, which is an infection caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. This parasite infection within the vagina will typically cause a smelly discharge that becomes a yellow colour; in some cases it may also be greenish. The consistency of the discharge is often foamy.
The Trichomonas parasite is most commonly transmitted during intercourse and is present in many parts of the world. Changes in the discharge may also be accompanied by itching and irritation of the vagina, as well as stinging sensations when urinating.
Can Men Have Discharge?
Even though discharge usually refers to women-related fluids, men can actually experience discharges. While discharge in women flows from the vagina and is completely natural, when it occurs in men from the urethra it is far from natural.
Men’s urethral discharge may be a symptom of infection with sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Chlamydia infection can cause a colourless and slimy discharge from the urethra, whereas gonorrhoea may result in a thicker, yellow discharge. There may also be a little discharge from a man’s urethra if he suffers from chronic inflammation of the prostate.
How Do You Treat Worsening Discharge?
Changes in your discharge, including colour, texture and volume, can dissipate over time. However, if you experience a change in discharge that lasts a long period of time without return to the normal healthy state, it will require treatment.
In most cases, all that’s needed is to restore the natural bacterial balance in the vagina with lactic acid bacteria. The changing discharge has, in many situations, arisen because a part of the lactic acid bacteria in the vagina has been ‘killed’ and therefore cannot protect the mucous membranes. There are different treatments available – most of which you can find at the nearest pharmacy and at Boots. If treatment with lactic acid bacteria does not work, consult your doctor for further treatment.
You can do much to remedy and prevent unnatural discharge. Never wash around your genitals with soap; clean, fresh water is all that’s needed. But if you like to have that extra clean feeling and want to take extra care of the skin in your sensitive areas, you can use Australian Bodycare Intimate Wash. The soap is mild and specially developed to cleanse intimate areas. Bacteria are washed efficiently yet gently away, without unbalancing the skin and causing irritation.
Furthermore, you can gently moisturise around your genitals daily with Femi daily. This product contains nourishing ingredients including Australian tea tree oil to prevent further genital discomfort. Gently apply around the labia – the gel prevents itching, irritation, dryness and unwanted odours.