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I tell my patients…contrary to popular belief, healthy vaginas emit a lot of different scents throughout the month, with stronger and more subtle variations of your unique smell appearing during different parts of your menstrual cycle (even with good hygiene). While every woman has her own distinct smell, it is important to pay attention to how your odor changes over time.  If your odor becomes more pungent than usual, or if you experience an increased amount of vaginal discharge and you don’t know why, call your healthcare provider. It could indicate elevated levels of bacteria or yeast, or possibly even a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

So, what odors are unhealthy?

  • Fish/ Seafood: This could mean you have a bacterial infection that should be treated with an antibiotic.
    • a. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common cause.  BV, which is usually associated with a white vaginal discharge with or without vaginal irritation, is linked to an imbalance of “good” and “harmful” bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina.  BV is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it typically occurs in sexually active women. (*We don’t know exactly how sex contributes to BV, and there is no research to show that treating a sex partner affects whether or not a woman gets BV).  We do know that having BV can increase your chances of getting other STIs.
    • b. Trichomoniasis is another potential cause. This is a sexually transmitted disease.  Although 70% of people infected with Trichomoniasis do not have any symptoms, those who do might experience vaginal odor, vaginal irritation and a thin discharge that can be clear, white, yellowish or greenish.
  • Warm Bread:  A yeast infection could be the culprit.  Yeast infections, which can be treated with over the counter creams or a pill prescribed by your doctor,  are often accompanied by a cottage cheese-like discharge as well as vaginal itching, irritation, and/or redness.
  • Rotten Meat: You probably forgot something in there.  Women often forget tampons in their vagina.  That’s dangerous because forgotten tampons can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, a condition that can lead to death.  If you think there is a foreign object in your vagina, and you can’t remove it, call your doctor.  Don’t be embarrassed!  We remove forgotten objects all the time.
  • Chlorine or Bleach:  Your condoms or lubricants might be causing the odor.  No, that is not a valid reason to skip the protection.  The smell will subside.  You can consider using a different brand. 
  • Musk:  You might just be sweating a little more than usual.  (Perhaps from exercising or wearing tight pants/ underwear.)  Use some warm water to wash the outside of your vagina and in the crevices and folds.  Don’t use scented soaps/ sprays…unless you want to disrupt the pH of your vagina and potentially cause bacterial vaginosis (see above).  Also, during the day you should wear breathable underwear with a cotton liner…at night, consider ditching your underwear all together.   

Bottom Line:  Some smells are healthy, some smells are not.  If you are concerned about your vaginal odor, see a doctor!  #DrNita

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