Vaginal discharge

A clear discharge which varies in thickness and amount from day-to-day is normal. If vaginal discharge changes colour, smell or consistency, or is accompanied by pain or itching, there may be something wrong.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021


You may have a vaginal infection, such as candida (a yeast infection also called thrush), or bacterial vaginosis. Both of these common conditions can be treated at home.

An abnormal vaginal discharge and itchy genitals can also be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Sexually transmitted infections can be successfully treated by your GP or at a sexual health clinic.

A change in your vaginal discharge can also be a symptom of:

  • The menopause
  • An allergy
  • Skin conditions
  • Certain cancers

Your GP will be able to diagnose and arrange treatment for the cause of your abnormal vaginal discharge.

Causes of vaginal discharge

If you have a thick, white discharge with a cottage cheese texture, you may have the common yeast infection candida.

Grey vaginal discharge with a fishy odour may be bacterial vaginosis which is caused by a bacterial imbalance in your vagina.

During or after the menopause, abnormal vaginal discharge, dryness and itching may be caused by low oestrogen levels.

A foul-smelling vaginal discharge may be caused by a foreign body in your vagina, such as a forgotten tampon.

Discharge with irritation around the vaginal area may be the result of an allergic reaction, such as to chemicals in detergents.

Sexually transmitted infections are another possible cause of vaginal discharge. You’re at a higher risk of a sexually transmitted infection if you:

  • Are under the age of 25
  • Have a new sexual partner
  • Have had more than one sexual partner in the last year
  • Have previously had a STI

Common types of STIs and their symptoms include:

  • Chlamydia – more vaginal discharge than normal, possibly yellow discharge, along with pain during sex or when passing urine and bleeding between periods
  • Genital herpes – abnormal vaginal discharge along with painful genital blisters
  • Gonorrhoea – more vaginal discharge than normal, accompanied by pain in your lower abdomen (stomach) or when passing urine and bleeding between periods
  • Trichomoniasis – a green discharge, yellow discharge or white discharge which may be frothy, along with pain around your vulva and when passing urine

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Getting a diagnosis for vaginal discharge

If you’re concerned about your vaginal discharge, see your GP. During your appointment, your GP will ask you about your general health, your sexual history and your symptoms.

Your GP may carry out a pelvic examination and take a sample of your vaginal discharge and from your cervix. These samples will be tested for infections such as candida, bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections.

If your GP diagnoses a sexually transmitted infection, you may be referred to a sexual health clinic for treatment.

Treatments for vaginal discharge

To relieve the irritation of vaginal discharge, try:

  • Washing your vaginal area gently with warm water or soaking in a warm bath, drying the affected area thoroughly afterwards
  • Avoiding using scented products around the vaginal area
  • Using sanitary towels instead of tampons
  • Wearing cotton pants

If you have a yeast infection such as candida, your GP will recommend over-the-counter medication or prescribe medication.

If you have bacterial vaginosis, your GP will prescribe antibiotics, either as tablets, cream or gel.

Most sexually transmitted infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics or antivirals, which your GP will prescribe. Sexually transmitted infections must be treated as they can lead to serious complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility.

If your abnormal vaginal discharge is menopausal, your GP may recommend treatment to rebalance your hormones and relieve dryness.

If another underlying condition is responsible for your vaginal discharge, your GP will recommend treatment depending on your diagnosis.

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