Fishy Vaginal Odor: 5 Causes & Treatment (with Home Remedies)

Medical review: Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
January 2022

The presence of foul-smelling vaginal discharge is a warning sign for women, as it is normally an indicator of bacterial infections or parasites that can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact.

This kind of foul smell is similar to the smell of rotten fish and is generally accompanied by other symptoms, such as itchiness, burning with urination, discharge that is a yellow-green color and pain during sex.

You are advised to see a doctor or gynecologist to identify the cause for the discharge and foul odor, and to start appropriate treatment. Depending on the cause, it may involve the use of an antibiotic.

The main causes for vaginal discharge with a foul smell are:

1. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection normally caused by the Gardnerella sp. bacteria, resulting in strong smelling and yellow or gray discharge. It is usually thick and has a strong odor, similar to rotten fish.

In addition, this type of infection can cause the emergence of other symptoms like external vaginal itching, and burning or discomfort with urination.

What to do: It is important to see your doctor or gynecologist to start appropriate treatment, which generally includes the use of oral or topical antibiotics like mitronidazole or clindomycin. These should be used for the time prescribed by the doctor, as vaginosis that is left untreated can increase your risk for catching other sexually transmitted infections or developing pelvic inflammatory disease.

2. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite. This is infection is characterized by strong-smelling, yellow-green discharge; and it can be accompanied by spotting, genital redness and pain or burning with urination.

What to do: The treatment of trichomoniasis should be guided by the doctor or gynecologist, who can opt to prescribe antibiotic like tinidazole or metronidazole for 5 to 7 days. It is important to avoid sexual contact during treatment, and it is also advised to have your sexual partner also complete treatment, even if they do not have symptoms. This will help to prevent reinfection.

3. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another sexually transmitted infection caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. It results in the appearance of a yellow discharge, similar to pus, that can also sometimes have a foul smell.

Other symptoms include pain or burning with urination, and urinary incontinence.

What to do: You should see your doctor or gynecologist for assessment to start appropriate treatment. Treatment usually involves the use of antibiotics like azithromycin and ceftriaxone for 7 to 10 days. In addition, you should avoid sexual contact during treatment, and it is also advised to have your sexual partner also complete treatment.

4. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is another sexually transmitted infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, which can cause a thick, yellow discharge without smell. This infection can also be accompanied by other symptoms like pain or burning with urination and bleeding with sex. If it is left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease or discharge with foul odor.

What to do: You should complete treatment as indicated by the gynecologist, which includes the use of antibiotics with azithromycin or doxycycline. It is important to avoid sexual contact during treatment and have your sexual partner also complete treatment, even if they do not have symptoms.

5. Forgetting a tampon inside or another object

Forgetting a tampon or another object inside the vagina, like a period cup or a condom for a example, for several days can also cause a foul-smelling discharge, similar to rotten meat.

In addition to the smell, the discharge can also be yellow, green, pink, grey or brown, and it can be accompanied by other symptoms like pain or discomfort with urination, pelvic pain, fever and/or itching.

What to do: It is important to consult your doctor or gynecologist as quickly as possible for assessment. If an object is noted inside the vagina, the doctor will be able to remove it. If you also have symptoms of infection, the doctor may indicate treatment.

Treatment for foul-smelling discharge

The treatment for foul-smelling discharge depends on the cause and the severity of the symptoms. You should consult your doctor or gynecologist for a pelvic exam and to start appropriate treatment.

Generally, the sexual partner should complete the same treatment as the infected woman. You should avoid any sex during treatment so that you can be completed cured.

Home remedies

There are some options for home remedies that can help to reduce discomfort caused by foul-smelling discharge like:

1. Sitz bath with guava leaves

Guava leaves contain antibiotic properties, which is an important ingredient to help with the treatment of vaginal infections. 

Ingredients

  • 30 grams guava leaves
  • 1 liter of water (about 35 oz)

How to prepare

Bring 1 liter of water to a boil, take the water off the heat, and add the guava leaves. Put the lid on the pot and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, strain the leaves and place the infusion in a big basin. 

When the infusion has cooled and is comfortable to the touch, sit in the basin without clothes. Cleanse the whole genital area until the water cools completely. Do this two to three times a day.

2. Eat garlic or use it locally

Raw garlic is a useful food that contains antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is also a source of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants that balance intestinal flora and strengthen the immune system. Therefore, it is a great natural remedy to help with the treatment of bacterial vaginosis.

It is possible to be capsules of raw garlic oil in pharmacies or natural health stores. The dose and time to take these capsules can vary, but generally you are advised to take 600mg per day for 12 weeks before meals.

Another way to use garlic for treatment of foul-smelling odor is to insert a clove of garlic inside the vagina before going to bed, and removing it in the morning. You can do this for 7 days as directed by your doctor.

3. Sitz bath with Stryphnodendron bark

Stryphnodendron is a plant that fights infections and helps with healing. Therefore, it can be used to complement treatment for infections like gonorrhea and bacterial vaginosis.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of Stryphnodendron bark
  • 1 liter of water (about 33 oz)

How to prepare

Boil 1 liter of water and add the Stryphnodendron bark. Allow this to boil for 10 minutes and turn off the stove. Allow this infusion to cool, then strain and pour into a basin. When the temperature is comfortable to touch, sit in the basin and carefully cleanse the entire genita area until the water cools. You can do this sitz bath once a day for 3 days. 

4. Sitz bath with peruvian pepper tree

Peruvian pepper tree is a plant with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that is able to fight bacteria and fungi. The bark= of this plant is used in teas to help with treatments of vaginal infections and discharge.

Ingredients

  • 10 g of peruvian pepper tree bark
  • 1.5 L (about 45 oz) of water

How to prepare

Boil the water and add the bark. Allow it to boil for 10 minutes then turn off the stove. Strain the infusion and pour it into a basin. When it becomes warm, sit in the basin without clothes and perform a sitz bath, making sure to carefully cleanse the entire vaginal area until the water becomes cold. You can do this sitz bath tree times per day for 3 days.

5. Sitz bath with pink peppercorn

Pepper corn is a medicinal plant that contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that help to fight bacteria and fungi. The bark of this plant is commonly used in tea to help with the treatment of vaginal infections and foul-smelling discharge.

Ingredients

  • 10 g of pink peppercorn bark
  • 1.5 L (about 45 oz) of water

How to prepare

Boil the water and add the bark. Allow it to boil for 10 minutes then turn off the stove. Strain the infusion and pour it into a basin. When it becomes warm, sit in the basin without clothes and perform a sitz bath, making sure to carefully cleanse the entire vaginal area until the water becomes cold. You can do this sitz bath tree times per day for 3 days.

What to eat

Some diet changes can help reduce foul-smelling discharge and regulate the naturally-occurring vaginal flora. Therefore, it is important to eat 3 to 5 portions of fruits and vegetables, as well as probiotics, which can be found in natural yogurt and kefir. These can also help strengthen the immune system to treat infections faster and to prevent new infections.

Was this information helpful?

Atualizado por Tua Saude editing team, em January de 2022. Medical review por Dr. Sheila Sedicias - Gynecologist, em May de 2020.

References

  • CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (CDC). Chlamydia. Available on: <https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/the-facts/chlamydia_bro_508.pdf>. Access in 13 Oct 2021
  • HEALTHDIRECT AUSTRALIA. Retained tampon or other object. Available on: <https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/retained-object-or-tampon>. Access in 13 Oct 2021
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  • ANSALONI, V, S, Lívia et al. A ginecologia natural como alternativa a um modelo médico tradicional: uma revisão integrativa. Brazilian Journal of Development. Vol.7. 1.ed; 1276-1291, 2021
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Medical review:
Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
Physician graduated in Mastology and Gynecology by UFPE in 2008 and member no. 17459 of CRM-PE, Brazil.