What Causes Watery Discharge? 10 Top Reasons

Updated in September 2023

Watery discharge can occur due to normal hormonal changes from your menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause. You may also notice watery discharge prior to sex. Watery discharge with other symptoms, however, may be a sign of infection, like bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia or trichomoniasis. 

Depending on the underlying cause, watery discharge may present with other symptoms such as itching, irritation or vaginal redness, as well as a foul odor or a slight tinge of yellow, green or gray.

It is important to consult a gynecologist if you notice watery discharge frequently or if it abundant. Watery discharge with a green, yellow or gray color, a foul odor or other symptoms should also be assessed to determine whether a health condition is present and needs to be treated.

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Common causes

The most common causes of watery discharge are:

1. Normal menstrual cycle

During the menstrual cycle, it is normal for estrogen and progesterone levels to fluctuate. This can lead to a watery, clear or whitish, odorless discharge, which is especially noted after a period and before ovulation.

This discharge can change in appearance as the fertile period arrives, becoming thicker, and similar to egg whites. Learn more about when your fertile period occurs and how to calculate. 

What to do: As this is a common finding, treatment or a medical consult is not necessary. However, if watery discharge is constant, increases in quantity or has a foul odor, you should see a gynecologist. Read more about the different colors vaginal discharge can present with and when to worry.

2. Exercising

Watery discharge can appear during physical exercise, such as running or cycling. This occurs because the vagina and vulva also produce sweat, contributing to a watery consistency.

However, if the discharge presents with other symptoms, like intense itching, irritation or redness, it may be a sign of infection, like a yeast infection. Excess moisture in the genital area can favor the growth of fungi, like Candida albicans.

What to do: You should opt for cotton underwear and breathable clothing when exercising. It is important to take a shower and change clothes after exercise to prevent the growth of fungi and yeast infection. If you experience symptoms of candidiasis, you should consult your gynecologist for the most appropriate treatment. Check-out how yeast infections are treated and what your doctor may recommend.

3. Sexual arousal

When you are sexually aroused, it is normal to experience watery discharge. This is the body's way of producing natural lubrication to moisten the vagina and protect it against friction during sex.

This discharge is made up of mucus produced by the cervix, secretions produced by the Bartholin glands and Skene glands, as well as mucus from the vaginal wall.

What to do: Vaginal lubrication mechanisms are normal and do not require medical care. However, if you have difficulties with lubrication or vaginal dryness, you can use water-based lubricants during sex to reduce sex. Persistent vaginal dryness should be assessed by a gynecologist, as another health condition may be contributing to it. 

4. Pregnancy

Watery discharge is common during pregnancy and occurs due to normal hormonal changes and increased estrogen levels. This stimulates increased blood flow to the pelvic region and leads to increased vaginal mucus production.

This discharge, also referred to as leucorrhoea, is normal and serves to eliminate dead cells from the vagina. This mechanisms helps to maintain the healthy bacteria in the birth canal and protect the mom and baby from infections.

What to do: Although this is a normal pregnancy finding, women should have regular prenatal consultations with their OB to ensure optimal health. Women who present with additional symptoms (like yellow, greenish or gray discharge, foul odor or itchiness), should see their OB for further assessment.

5. Menopause

Menopause is a phase in the woman's lifecycle that is marked by the end of a woman's fertile age. During this time, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and the menstrual cycle ends. 

During menopause, women may notice a watery discharge due to vaginal atrophy, which can make the vaginal wall thinner, irritated and inflamed. It may also be accompanied by other symptoms, like itching, burning, urinary frequency and urinary infections. Learn more about menopause symptoms that many women experience during this phase.

What to do: The treatment of vaginal atrophy during menopause should be directed by a gynecologist, who may recommend hormone replacement therapy with estrogen, as well as a menopause diet to help manage symptoms.

6. Bacterial vagnosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused mainly by Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria. This bacteria is naturally found in the vagina, but may over-produce when there is a reduced amount of other health bacteria in the vagina. This can lead to the appearance of watery discharge with a yellow or gray tinge, and a foul smell, often described as rotton fish.

Other symptoms that may emerge include intense genital itching and a burning sensation when urinating.

What to do: You should consult a gynecologist if you have any of the above symptoms, who may prescribe treatment with antibiotics, like metronidazole, clindamycin or secnidazole. These may be prescribed in the form of vaginal ovules, ointment or tablets.

7. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) caused by Trichomonas vaginalis. It is associated with a watery discharge that is greenish-yellow in color, and has a strong, foul smell. It can also cause discomfort when urinating and genital redness.

What to do: Treatment for trichomoniasis should be undergone by the woman and her sexual partner, even if he/she does not present with any symptoms. The doctor may prescribe metronidazole in pill or ointment form. 

8. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is another STI that can cause watery discharge. It is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, and is associated with other symptoms like pain and burning with urination, bleeding during sex and pelvic pain. 

What to do: It is important to adhere to the treatment prescribed by your doctor, which normally consists of antibiotics like azithromycin or doxycycline. 

9. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is also an STI, and is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria that is transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, It leads to the appearance of a thin, watery, green/yellow discharge, pain or burning when urinating, urinary incontinence, genital itching or bleeding.

What to do:  You should see your doctor as soon as possible to initiate gonorrhea treatment, which may involve antibiotics, like penicillin, ofloxacin, or ciprofloxacin.

10. Genital herpes

Genital herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can be transmitted through contact with a partner's open blisters during unprotected sex.

A genital herpes infection can lead to the appearance of clear, white or cloudy liquid discharge, as well as blisters in the vagina or vulva, which can rupture and form itchy, painful sores.

Herpes sores,can also appear in the perianal region or anus. Learn more about the symptoms of genital herpes and what they look like.

What to do: You should see a doctor if you suspect you may have genital herpes. Once diagnosed, the doctor may initiate the most appropriate treatment, which normally involves antiviral drugs like acyclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir. These are usually taken for about 7 days to prevent virus multiplication, promote healing, and prevent the rupture of new sores.