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Vaginal discharge

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Some vaginal discharge is normal.
  • Vaginal discharge is not normal if it changes colour or smells.
  • The treatment will depend on what’s causing your vaginal discharge.

What is normal vaginal discharge?

Some vaginal discharge is normal and needed — it keeps your vulva and vagina moist and keeps infections away. This is because normal vaginal discharge is slightly acidic (pH 4 to 4.5). This helps to stop infections.

Normal vaginal discharge is mainly a mixture of cells, mucus, sweat, oils and vaginal bacteria. It’s usually clear or creamy in colour. Sometimes there may be a slight yellow tint to it.

Normal discharge will change in appearance throughout your menstrual cycle.

Normal vaginal discharge does not have an offensive smell and does not cause any irritation. It’s quite likely that you won’t even know you have any discharge until you see some in your underwear.

Does vaginal discharge change during my menstrual cycle?

Your vaginal discharge will change as your hormone levels change during your menstrual cycle. Everyone has different amounts of discharge.

In the first week after your period, a discharge is not usually present. If there is some discharge, it will probably be quite thick.

In the middle of your cycle, discharge is normally thin and clear. It may look slightly yellow or brownish if it has been in your underwear for a length of time.

The amount of vaginal discharge also goes up when you are sexually aroused.

Vaginal discharge after menopause

Your vagina tends to lose its moisture after the menopause due to lower oestrogen levels. However, you will still make small amounts of discharge after menopause.

Vaginal discharge during pregnancy

Vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy.

When should I be concerned about vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is not normal if:

  • it is thick and white, like cottage cheese
  • it smells fishy
  • it is green, yellow or frothy
  • you have lower stomach pain or vaginal bleeding
  • you have genital sores or blisters

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes abnormal changes to vaginal discharge?

Unusual discharge is often a sign of infection or inflammation, such as:

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned about your vaginal discharge, see your doctor.

Also see your doctor if you notice any related symptoms such as:

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is the cause of vaginal discharge diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms. They may also examine you to investigate the cause of your vaginal discharge.

Examining your vaginal discharge under the microscope may help identify an infection.

How is vaginal discharge treated?

Treatment for vaginal discharge will depend on its cause.

Antibiotics are usually given for bacterial vaginosis as either tablets, a cream or gel.

Antifungal creams or pessaries (a tablet that is put into your vagina) are used to treat thrush.

Sexually transmitted infections are usually treated with antibiotics.

Contact tracing

If you have an STI, you will be asked to get in touch with any recent sexual partners. This is called contact tracing. It lets your partners get tested and treated if they are also infected. This helps to stop the spread of the infection.

Can vaginal discharge be prevented?

It’s normal for females to have some vaginal discharge.

Resources and support

If you are concerned about vaginal discharge you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Last reviewed: December 2023

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