Yellow Discharge: Common Causes & What to Do

September 2022

Yellow vaginal 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.

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. 

The possible causes of yellow discharge are:

1. Yeast infection

A yeast infection, also know as candidiasis, is a relatively frequent type of infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans fungs within the vagina. It often appears in women who have a weakened immune system or following antibiotic treatment.

In addition to yellow discharge, other signs of a yeast infection include foul odor, intense itchiness and burning. Learn more about what causes a vaginal yeast infection and the symptoms associated with it.

What to do: When treating a yeast infection, you should keep the vagina clean and dry, and use cotton underwear to allow the skin to breathe. You should see your doctor to initiate treatment with vaginal antifungal medication such as fluconazole or clotrimazole.  Learn more about how yeast infections are treated and what options are available.

2. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

STIs are relatively common and occur following unprotected sex. You are at more at risk for catching an STI if you have more than one partner. Some STDs such as trichomoniasis or chlamydia can cause discharge, which varies in color between yellow, gray, or greenish.

In addition to discharge, other symptoms that can occur are itchiness, pain with urination, and intense redness in the area.  

What to do: If you suspect you have an STI, you should see your doctor for assessment and testing. If confirmed, you will be started on treatment, which usually includes the use of antibiotics. 

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.

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.

Tips to help during treatment 

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.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in September 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Sheila Sedicias - Gynecologist in March 2021.
Medical review:
Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
Physician graduated in Mastology and Gynecology by UFPE in 2008 and member no. 17459 of CRM-PE, Brazil.