Secretions from the vagina are a common reason to visit the gynecologist. Having some amount of discharge is normal, because both vaginal and cervical glands produce discharge, which may turn clear/white/or yellow when exposed to air. Vaginal discharge also varies during different phases of the menstrual cycle depending on hormonal influences. Emotional stress, ovulation, pregnancy, and sexual excitement can also increase the amount of normal vaginal discharge.

If a vaginal discharge becomes odorous or irritating/itchy, it may be time to visit the doctor. Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge can include:

  • Vaginal yeast infection – typically causes white clumpy discharge associated with itching
  • Bacterial vaginosis – caused by overgrowth of normal vaginal flora causing an odor and white discharge
  • Trichomonas – vaginal infection that causes a foamy discharge
  • Forgotten tampon or foreign body – odor becomes worse with time
  • Chlamydia/gonorrhea – may cause a change in discharge or spotting, or may be totally asymptomatic
  • Atrophic vaginitis – in women with low estrogen levels there can be a discharge

Other vaginal infections and skin conditions

Your doctor can help diagnose and treat the cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge. If your problem is associated with vaginal/vulvar itching, you may want to try an over-the-counter yeast treatment cream first before visiting the clinic. Keeping the genital area clean, avoiding feminine hygiene sprays/powders, avoiding tight-fitting pants or shorts, and wearing cotton underwear can help to reduce skin irritation. Good control of diabetes is recommended, as yeast infections are common in people who have elevated blood sugar levels. Avoid douching, as this disrupts the healthy bacterial ecosystem and may actually encourage infection and increase discharge in the long run. If you see blisters in association with discharge, it is helpful to visit the doctor while this is present in order to aid in diagnosis.