Vaginal odor is a common concern for many women. The smell of the vagina can vary depending on factors such as age, menstrual cycle, hygiene practices, sexual activity, and underlying medical conditions. It is essential to understand that every woman has a natural scent, and it is normal to have a slight vaginal odor. However, a strong or foul smell may indicate an underlying medical condition that needs attention.
What is Abnormal Vaginal Odor?
Abnormal vaginal odor refers to any unpleasant or unusual smell that you may experience from the vagina. The vagina usually has a slight, musky scent, which can change throughout the menstrual cycle. However, if the odor becomes strong, foul, or noticeable, it could indicate an underlying problem.
There are several possible causes of abnormal vaginal odor, including bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), poor hygiene, hormonal changes, and certain foods or medications.
What Causes Vaginal Odor?
Our body has two types of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands, which produce clear, odorless sweat, are all over the body and help regulate body temperature. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, are located in areas such as the underarms and genital region and produce a thicker, milky sweat that contains proteins and fatty acids. This type of sweat is responsible for body odor.
The genital area is particularly prone to sweating because it is often covered by tight-fitting clothing that can trap moisture and prevent air circulation. When sweat accumulates in the folds of skin in the genital region, bacteria that naturally live on the skin can break down the sweat and release an unpleasant odor.
Causes of vaginal odor can vary on multiple factors, some of which are normal, while others may indicate an underlying health condition. Some causes of vaginal odor are:
It is a common symptom of vaginal infections caused by an overgrowth of bacterial organisms in the vaginal area. It is caused by an imbalance of the bacteria that typically live in the vagina. Bacterial Vaginosis can cause a fishy odor that is more noticeable after sex. Other symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis can include vaginal itching or irritation, a thin gray or white vaginal discharge, and a burning sensation during urination. Other infections include trichomoniasis and candida ( yeast infection). Thes can be treated with antibiotics or antifungals accordingly.
Not washing the genital area regularly, wearing tight-fitting clothes, or using harsh soaps or hygiene products can produce a vaginal odor. Good hygiene practices include washing the genital area with warm water and mild soap, wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing, and changing clothes after exercising or sweating heavily.
The genital area has sweat glands like any other body part, and sweat can cause an unpleasant odor if it’s not washed away. Sweat can accumulate in the folds of skin in the genital region, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause odor. To prevent sweat-related odor, it’s essential to maintain good hygiene practices, including washing the genital area regularly and wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing.
During menstruation, the body sheds blood and tissue from the uterus through the vagina. This shedding can cause a temporary increase in vaginal odor, which is generally not a cause for concern. The smell should subside once the menstrual period is over.
Sexual activity can also cause a temporary increase in vaginal odor due to the mixing of bodily fluids, including semen and vaginal secretions. It is not worrisome unless other persistent symptoms, such as itching or burning, accompany the smell.
Our foods can affect the body’s natural odors, including vaginal odor. For example, eating foods high in sulphur, such as garlic or onion, can cause temporary changes in vaginal odor. Other foods, such as sugar and processed foods, can alter the balance in the pH of the vagina, which can also contribute to changes in smell.
Hormonal changes can also affect vaginal odor. During pregnancy, for example, hormonal changes can cause the vaginal secretions to increase, leading to changes in smell. Menopause can also cause changes in vaginal odor as the body produces less estrogen, leading to a thinner, drier vaginal lining.
It involves the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. An unusual vaginal odor is not a common symptom of cervical cancer, but it may occur in some cases. Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or discomfort, pain during sex, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
It is an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina. This can occur as a result of injury, infection, or surgery. Symptoms may include vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor, fecal incontinence or the passage of gas or stool through the vagina.
This is a rare type of cancer that involves the cells of the vagina. An unusual vaginal odor is not a common symptom of vaginal cancer, but it may occur in some cases. Other symptoms of vaginal cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain or discomfort during sex, and a lump or mass in the vagina.
While the vaginal odor is a common concern for many women, it’s not always a sign of an infection or health problem. Mild changes in vaginal odor are usually normal and can be managed with good hygiene.
What Causes Vaginal Odor During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, unpleasant vaginal odors are frequently caused by vaginitis. Yet, other elements could also cause you to detect unfamiliar odors there. Many claim that during pregnancy, their sense of smell is enhanced. Moreover, urges might lead you to consume various meals, which would change the aroma of your vagina. Your pH level can be affected, resulting in new odors due to increased blood flow to your vagina and fluctuating amounts of pregnancy hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, and prolactin. This increased discharge can lead to changes in vaginal odor.
Along with hormonal changes, poor cleanliness, clothing that is too tight, and vaginal infections can all cause foul vaginal odor during pregnancy. Bacteria can build up in the vaginal area due to poor cleanliness, resulting in odor. Moreover, sweating and moisture buildup in the vaginal area brought on by wearing tight-fitting garments can foster the growth of bacteria that can produce odor. Vaginal diseases like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections can also change the vaginal odor.
Common postpartum vaginal odor. Blood, mucus, and other pregnancy-related debris known as lochia are released as your uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy form. Lochia smells sour and metallic, like musty old blood, leading to a musty vaginal.
How is a Suspicious Vaginal Odor Diagnosed?
To identify a suspicious vaginal odor, the following protocol is followed
The healthcare specialist will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, sexual activity, and contraceptive use to help identify the possible cause of the vaginal odor. Here are some questions that a healthcare provider may ask to help identify the probable cause of the vaginal odor
- How long have you been experiencing vaginal odor?
- What does the odor smell like? (fishy, sour, sweet, etc.)
- Have you noticed any changes in your vaginal discharge color, consistency or amount?
- Are you currently using any vaginal products or douching?
- Have you recently changed your soap, laundry detergent, or other personal care products?
- Are you sexually active? If so, do you use condoms or other forms of protection?
- Have you recently had a new sexual partner?
- Have you been diagnosed with any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the past?
- Any medical conditions that may affect vaginal health (e.g., diabetes)?
- Are you taking any medications that may affect vaginal health (e.g., antibiotics)?
A healthcare provider may perform a pelvic exam to see signs of infection in the vagina, cervix, and uterus. They may also take a swab of your vaginal discharge for testing.
The pH level of the vagina can help identify the cause of the vaginal odor. A healthy vagina has a slightly acidic pH level of 3.5 to 4.5. An elevated pH level may indicate an overgrowth of bacteria or a yeast infection.
The doctor will take a sample of your vaginal discharge to identify the source of vaginitis. They will examine the discharge under a microscope or send it to a lab for analysis to determine the presence of any bacteria, yeast, or parasites.
How is Vaginal Odor Treated?
The treatment for vaginal odor depends on the underlying cause. Here are some possible treatment options:
BV is usually treated with antibiotics, either through oral medications or vaginal creams or gels. Your healthcare provider can determine the appropriate treatment based on your symptoms and medical history.
Yeast infections are usually treated with antifungal medications, such as creams, ointments, or oral tablets. Over-the-counter options are available, but it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis and determine the appropriate treatment.
Other vaginal infections, such as trichomoniasis or sexually transmitted diseases (STD), may also cause vaginal odor. Depending on the specific disease, treatment for these infections may involve antibiotics or antifungal medications.
If hormonal fluctuations cause vaginal odor during pregnancy or menopause, you may recommend hormonal therapy or other medications to help manage the symptoms.
Maintaining good hygiene practices, such as washing the genital area regularly with warm water and mild soap, wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing, and changing clothes after exercising or sweating heavily, can also help manage vaginal odor.
Radiation or Surgery
Treatment for vaginal or cervical cancer depends on the stage and extent of the tumor. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination.
It’s important to note that over-the-counter products such as douches, vaginal sprays, or scented hygiene products are not recommended for treating vaginal odor. These products may worsen the situation by upsetting the average balance of bacteria in the vagina and creating irritation.
How to Make the Vagina Smell Good and Prevent Vaginal Odor?
You may establish healthy routines to keep your vulva clean and guard against infection in your vagina. A healthy vagina has a little odd odor, although it changes over time. Due to the iron content of blood, you may experience a metallic smell when you are having your period.
The good news is that your vagina is self-cleaning, so you don’t need to use items with preservatives to get it clean.
The following tips can help ward off the unpleasant odor.
Maintain Proper hygiene
While cleaning your vulva, only use mild, unscented soap and warm water. After working, exercise shower and change into clean clothing immediately to avoid sitting for too long in hot, sweaty attire or a wet swimsuit. Harmful bacteria thrive best in warm, humid conditions.
Douching can change the pH of your vagina, leaving you more susceptible to infection. Douching can exacerbate a vaginal infection by pushing the bacteria deeper into your body, resulting in a more severe illness, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). A serious condition called PID can lead to infertility.
Wear breathable and lightweight clothes.
Do not wear overly tight clothing around your vulva, such as thongs. Instead, put on cotton underwear that wicks away moisture and heat.
If you’re dehydrated, your vagina could smell strongly of ammonia. Our urine waste might become particularly concentrated and pungent without enough water. Water can hydrate you and get rid of the scent. During sex, guard your vagina and vaginal flora.
Limit your intake of junk food.
Junk food tinkers with your vagina’s pH balance.
In reality, a condition called bacterial vaginosis can be brought on by overeating sugar.
Increase your intake of fruits and green leafy vegetables to improve the odor of your vagina.
It would be best if you had salads and plain yogurt as well.
It lowers your risk of STIs and other illnesses that might cause your vagina’s pH levels to fluctuate, such as Bacterial Vaginosis. To avoid causing vaginal irritation, exclusively use flavorless and unscented lubricants. Wash after sexual intercourse and maintain hygiene.
When Should I Seek Medical Attention for Unusual Vaginal Odor?
Visit a doctor or get urgent care if you have persistent abnormal vaginal odor or odor accompanied by discharge, burning, or irritation. Vaginal infections brought on by untreated vaginitis may invade your uterus or fallopian tubes. Moreover, vaginitis can make you more vulnerable to getting an STD.
If you’re pregnant, you should seek medical attention in particular. An increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight, amniotic fluid infection, and other problems exist among pregnant women with vaginitis or vaginal odor.
FAQs about Vaginal Odor Answered By Your Doctors Online Team
A strong odor in the vaginal area can be caused by various factors such as bacterial vaginosis, poor hygiene, sweat, sexually transmitted infections, diet, and hormonal changes. It’s important to note that every person’s natural vaginal scent differs and can change due to various factors. Practicing good hygiene, wearing breathable clothing, managing your diet, and practicing safe sex can help maintain a healthy vaginal environment and prevent strong odors.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can cause a strong, fishy odor in the vaginal area. The smell is typically more noticeable after sexual activity and can be accompanied by gray or white discharge. The odor may also be more pronounced during menstruation or after douching. Bacterial Vaginosis is due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina and is a common vaginal infection that can be treated with antibiotics.
A yeast infection typically does not cause a strong odor. It is characterized by itching, burning, redness, and white, clumpy discharge. However, in some cases, a yeast infection may cause a slightly sweet or bread-like odor.