Vaginal odors are something many women worry about. Sometimes, women are concerned they aren’t cleaning down there properly, or that something else is wrong – do I have a vaginal infection? A UTI? Did I eat something that made me stink? None of these questions are silly, and most of the time the smell from “down there” isn’t as problematic as you may think. Our vagina is filled with a whole host of good bacteria that make up a healthy microbiome. Sometimes, one or more of these bacteria dominate and the result may be a change in vaginal perfume. This is not necessarily problematic. Occasionally though, the odor could be an indication that something is awry and may need some medical attention. Here is a list of common vaginal odors, and what they MAY mean:
- Fishy: the most likely culprit behind this scent is bacterial vaginosis (BV), the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44. This is usually due to an overgrowth of bad bacteria, and requires a prescription for antibiotics in order to treat. Accompanying discharge is usually thin and watery.
- Yeasty: This smell is usually due to a fungal overgrowth in the vagina known as a yeast infection. It may also be associated with a cottage cheese like discharge and intense itching.
- Musty: We have many sebaceous and sweat glands around our vulvar tissues. When we exercise and sweat, and that area cannot properly “breathe” the sweat gets trapped. The result is a musty scent, that can easily be washed away after cleaning the area with soap and water.
- Rotten: This smell is quite concerning and may be related to a retained tampon. This can be dangerous, especially because the rotten smell is a sign that bacteria are festering. You may also be at risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome in this scenario. See your provider as soon as possible if your vagina smells rotten.
- Metallic: Blood in the vagina can often give off a whiff of copper or other metallic scent. You can clean with basic soap and water, but the smell is not concerning (especially if you have your period).
- Other: Sometimes, the food we eat can give off a funky smell in both our vaginal secretions and in our urine. Asparagus and garlic are commonly known to have this effect. While the smell may be unpleasant, it is not a health concern.
Lastly, if there is any smell or discharge coming from your vagina that is concerning – seek care from a professional. Vaginal douches and washes are often harmful, as they disrupt the good bacteria that are meant to protect us. Your women’s health provider will be able to check you and get a culture if necessary. Better to be safe than sorry!
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