Yellow Discharge: Top 5 Causes & What to Do

Updated in August 2023

Yellow discharge does not necessarily indicate a health problem, especially if the discharge is a light yellow color. This type of discharge can be common in women who inherently have thicker discharge, especially during ovulation.

However, if there is also foul smell or other symptoms such as itchiness in the genital area or pain when urinating, the yellow discharge may be a sign of infection, like trichomoniasis, gonorrhea or chlamydia.

If you are concerned about yellow discharge, you should see your doctor for assessment to evaluate whether there is any underlying cause and to start treatment as necessary. 

Imagem ilustrativa número 3

What causes yellow vaginal discharge?

Yellow discharge from the vagina can be a symptom of: 

1. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by the Trichomonas vaginalis protozoan. It can lead to the appearance of a yellow-green discharge with a strong odor, as well as pain and discomfort when urinating. 

What to do: Treatment for trichomoniasis should be done by both sexual partners, even if both are asymptomatic. The doctor may prescribe metronidazole pills or ointment for topical application. 

2. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted infection that is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. It is associated with yellow discharge, pain and burning with urination, blood during sex, pelvic pain and breakthrough bleeding outside of a menstrual cycle. 

What to do: It is important to start treatment as prescribed, which normally involves antibiotics like azithromycin or doxycycline. 

3. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is an STI caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, which can be transmitted through unprotected sex. This infection is associated with symptoms like yellow discharge, pain and burning when urinating and urinary frequency. 

What to do: You should see a doctor for assessment and treatment with antibiotics. Read more about the medications your doctor may prescribe for gonorrhea treatment

3. Urethritis

Inflammation of the urethra, also known as urethritis, can occur with an infection or following direct trauma. It is more common in women who have recurrent urinary tract infections and in women with poor personal hygiene.

In these cases, the discharge can be of a yellow-green color and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as a stinging sensation when urinating, difficulty starting to urinate, and itchiness in the region.  

What to do: It is important to see your doctor confirm a diagnosis and start antibiotic treatment with azithromycin or ceftriaxone. 

4. Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is an infection of the female reproductive organs, which generally starts in the vagina and progresses to the uterus, causing yellow discharge and other symptoms such as fever over 38ºC, pain at the bottom of the stomach and vaginal bleeding.  

What to do: You should see your doctor for assessment, this condition requires treatment with antibiotics for about 2 weeks. During treatment, you should avoid sexual contact.

What can cause yellow discharge in pregnancy

During pregnancy, yellow discharge can be caused by trichomoniases, which requires treatment, as it can lead to premature labor or low birth weight. See what causes yellow discharge during pregnancy and how to treat it.

If you are pregnant and have yellow discharge, you should see your doctor or obstetrician for assessment to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment for trichomoniases is normally done with metronidazole or tinidazole. Learn more about different types of discharge that can occur during pregnancy.

How to treat yellow discharge

Even though treatment options may vary according to the underlying cause of the discharge, there are some tips that you can consider to speed-up recovery:

  • Inform your sexual partner of your condition, as he/she may require treatment, which can also prevent reinfection
  • Use a condom to avoid infecting your partner
  • Avoid vaginal douching, as this can removes the natural, protective vaginal flora 
  • Avoid using intimate hygiene perfumes or sprays as they alter the vagina’s pH level
  • Wear cotton underwear, as cotton does not cause irritation;
  • Avoid wearing trousers or shorts that are very tight, and opt for skirts or dresses to prevent perspiration so that the area remains dry.

It is also important to avoid using tampons, and opt for pads instead.