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What can cause white vaginal discharge (and how to treat it)

June 2020

When white discharge has a particular smell and a different consistency to usual it could be a sign of a vaginal infection, like candidiasis or an alteration in the normal vaginal flora, such as bacterial vaginosis. In these cases, the discharge comes with other symptoms alongside it, such as burning sensation and itchiness in the vagina. If this happens we recommend you visit a gynecologist as soon as possible, so that you can get a recommendation on the best treatment.  

However, not all discharge is a sign of a disease or infection. It is normal for women to have odorless, white or transparent discharge as it helps maintain vaginal lubrication. This type of discharge (similar to egg white) can also indicate that a woman is going through her fertile period.

What can cause white vaginal discharge (and how to treat it)

Main causes for white vaginal discharge 

If you have white discharge that is similar to curdled milk as well as other symptoms, such as itchiness, redness and burning sensation in the vulva and vagina there may be different causes:

1. Yeast infection

Vaginal yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is a very common infection that affects women. It happens when a fungus from the Candida genus overgrows in the vaginal lining. As well as causing white discharge, this type of infection can also lead to itchiness in the genital area, burning sensation when urinating, pain during sexual intercourse and redness in the area.  

How to treat it: The treatment for candidiasis is done through antifungal medication, which can be tablets (e.g. Fluconazole), ointment or vaginal suppositories. The treatment can last from 3 to 7 days and must be done under the supervision of a gynecologist.

2. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an alteration that occurs to the normal vaginal flora, where there is an increased development of the Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria. This bacterial vaginosis can cause white, gray or yellow discharge, an unpleasant odor that is similar to rotten fish, itchiness and burning sensation in the genital area.  

How to treat it: The treatment for the Gardnerella vaginalis infection is done by taking the antibiotic metronidazole, under a gynecologist’s supervision. As well as this, we recommend that when still recovering, a condom be used during intercourse and the area be kept clean.

3. Vaginal discharge before menstruation

It is normal for women to have thick, white discharge just before menstruation, as this is part of the menstrual cycle. This discharge is odorless, it does not come with any other symptoms and its function is to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg and fertilizing it, and also to protect the woman’s body and promote lubrication. 

However, if you have yellow, brown or pink discharge before you menstruate, as well as other symptoms, we recommend you visit a gynecologist so that they can check your genital area and prescribe medical tests, if necessary. This is because it could be a vaginal infection or it could be a sexually transmitted disease, in which case treatment would be necessary. 

How to avoid vaginal discharge

As discharge can be a symptom of vaginal infections, it is important for you follow the following steps in order to keep the vaginal microbiota healthy so that no infection will develop: 

  1. Avoid wearing underwear that is damp or wet;
  2. Do not wear underwear made of synthetic materials. Choose cotton instead;
  3. Wear light clothes and avoid very tight jeans and shorts;
  4. Avoid sweet foods and food that are high in carbohydrates, as they weaken your immune system and so it is more likely for infections to appear;
  5. Do not do douching directly on the genital area and wash the outside area of the vagina with an intimate hygiene soap;
  6. Sleep without underwear
  7. After passing stool, always clean yourself from front to back to stop feces from going into the vagina and causing infections.

In addition, perfumed wipes or toilet paper can also be harmful to a woman’s intimate area, increasing the risk of developing infections.

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