Discharge Colors: What They Mean & How To Treat Them

Updated in May 2022

When vaginal discharge has a certain color, smell, is thicker or has an unusual consistency it may indicate a vaginal infection like candidiasis or a sexually-transmitted disease, like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.

Normal vaginal discharge, which can be observed a few days before menstruation, is transparent. It has a consistency similar to that of egg whites and is typically odorless. 

If your discharge has a foul odor and is white, yellow, green, pink, or brown in color, you should see your doctor or gynecologist for assessment. You should especially book an appointment if your changes are accompanied by other symptoms. 

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Discharge can vary in color, with each type indicating different changes:

1. White discharge

Thick, white discharge that looks like curdled milk or cottage cheese is usually accompanied by other symptoms like itchiness, redness, and a burning sensation in the vulva and vagina. It is also common to experience white discharge before a period.

What can cause it: This type of curdled discharge can be caused by a yeast infection, a vaginal infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans. Milky white discharge that is homogeneous and has a fishy odor can be a sign of colpitis, a type of vaginosis caused by protozoans, fungi, or bacteria. Find out what else can cause white discharge

How to treat it: Yeast infections are typically treated with antifungals like fluconazole, which can be taken orally as pills or applied topically with ointments.

2. Yellow or yellow-green discharge

Yellow, gray, or yellow-green discharge with a strong, fishy odor, can be accompanied by other symptoms like pain and burning sensation during sex or urination.  

What can cause it: Discharge that looks like pus may be a sign of chlamydia, while discharge that is greenish may be a sign of a sexually-transmitted infection like vulvovaginitis or trichomoniasis, Check out the other causes of yellow discharge and green discharge.

How to treat it: Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of infections. Fungal infections are treated with medication like metronidazole, tioconazole or secnidazole, which can be taken as a single-dose pill or in a treatment that lasts five to seven days. Bacterial infections, like chlamydia, are treated with antibiotics, given as a single dose or 5-day course. 

3. Brown or bloody discharge

Brown or bloody discharge is generally linked to other symptoms like pain and burning when urinating. 

What can cause it: It can be caused by gonorrhea, a sexually-transmitted bacterial infection, however there are many causes for brown discharge. In more serious cases this type of discharge can also indicate vaginal, cervical or endometrial cancer. Brown discharge that precedes or follows recent menstruation is not a concern, as it is a common finding. 

How to treat it: Bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics such as azithromycin or ciprofloxacin, taken as a single dose or as a seven to ten-day treatment. Brown discharge not associated with menstruation should be assessed by your doctor. Keep in mind that brown discharge can also occur during pregnancy. 

4. Pink discharge

There are many causes for pink discharge, like the use of contraceptives or hormonal imbalances. It is usually not an abnormal or concerning finding. 

Pink discharge that occurs after ovulation may be an early sign of pregnancy. It is usually caused by implantation of the egg, and generally occurs 3 days after fertilization. This type of discharge can occur with cramps or mild abdominal pain that resolves on its own. 

5. Clear discharge

Liquid, transparent discharge, resembling egg whites, may indicate that you are in your fertile period. It is an ideal time to become pregnant if you are not preventing pregnancy with contraceptives. 

This type of discharge usually lasts about six days and goes away naturally. Learn more about clear discharge and what it means.

Having some type of vaginal discharge during pregnancy is completely normal, especially when the discharge is transparent or slightly white. However, changes to vaginal discharge during pregnancy can also be a sign of a more serious problem. Changes should be assessed and treated as quickly as possible to avoid pregnancy complications that could potentially harm the baby.

Read more about discharge during pregnancy and what is considered to be abnormal. 

Preventing discharge

To avoid infections and vaginal diseases that can cause discharge, it is important to perform adequate daily hygiene. You should aim to cleanse the genital area once or twice per day. To do this, splash the area with plenty of water and minimal mild soap. There is no need to excessively rub the area. Then pat the area dry and put on a clean pair of underwear. 

Other considerations include:

  • Wearing cotton underwear;
  • Avoid daily use of panty-liners;
  • Avoid using wet wipes or perfumed toilet paper;
  • Avoid excessive friction when washing 

These steps will help prevent vaginal infections and preserve the integrity of the vaginal lining. There are also natural remedies