What Is Vaginal Discharge

  • Nurah EkhlaqueMasters in Biotechnology, Guru Ghasidas University, India

Vaginal discharge is a commonplace and entirely natural occurrence in the lives of individuals with a vagina. Despite often remaining unnoticed or undiscussed, it plays a pivotal role in preserving vaginal well-being. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of vaginal discharge, elucidating its functions, variations, and what individuals need to know to maintain their vaginal health.

Vaginal discharge is the term used to describe the fluid secreted by the glands within the walls of the vagina and cervix. This discharge serves as a fundamental component for the overall health and functioning of the female reproductive system. Its primary functions encompass:

  • Cleansing and Lubrication: Vaginal discharge acts as a self-cleaning mechanism for the vagina, aiding in the removal of dead cells, bacteria, and other detritus, thereby ensuring a clean vaginal environment. Additionally, it lubricates the vaginal walls, enhancing comfort during sexual intercourse.
  • Indicator of Reproductive Health: Alterations in the colour, texture, and odour of vaginal discharge can signify different phases in the menstrual cycle. Monitoring these changes empowers individuals to gain insights into their fertility and reproductive health.
  • Protective Barrier: Vaginal discharge can create a protective barrier against infections. The slightly acidic nature of the vaginal environment, partly maintained by this discharge, inhibits the proliferation of harmful bacteria and yeast.
  • Natural pH Balance: Vaginal discharge aids in sustaining the optimal pH balance of the vagina, which is slightly acidic. This acidity is pivotal in preventing the overgrowth of detrimental bacteria or yeast.

Read on

Now that we have comprehensively addressed the core question of what vaginal discharge is and its functions let's venture deeper into this subject to offer you a thorough understanding.

The science of vaginal discharge

To acquire a profound understanding of vaginal discharge, it is essential to familiarize oneself with the female reproductive system. The vagina serves as a muscular tube connecting the external genitals to the cervix, situated at the lower part of the uterus. Within the walls of the vagina and cervix are glands responsible for the production of diverse fluids, including vaginal discharge.

These glands constantly secrete fluids throughout the menstrual cycle, although the quantity and composition can fluctuate. Hormones governing the menstrual cycle exert influence over the volume and consistency of this discharge.

Types and varieties of vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge exhibits numerous forms, each serving distinct purposes:

  • Clear or White Discharge: This represents the norm on most days of the menstrual cycle. It typically manifests as a clear or milky-white fluid and may become more conspicuous during ovulation.
  • Egg White Discharge: Commonly likened to the appearance of egg whites, this type of discharge is prevalent during ovulation. It possesses a thin, slippery quality and can be stretched between one's fingers.
  • Yellow or Green Discharge: The emergence of these colours can signify the presence of an infection, warranting medical attention upon observation.
  • Brown Discharge: This variety is often observed at the initiation or conclusion of the menstrual period, typically indicating the presence of older blood that has taken time to exit the body.
  • Thick, Cottage-Cheese-Like Discharge: The texture of this discharge may indicate the presence of a yeast infection.

Comprehending these variations aids in distinguishing when vaginal discharge is within the realm of normality and when it might signal an underlying issue.

When to raise concerns

While vaginal discharge typically indicates a healthy reproductive system, certain changes or symptoms should prompt heightened concern:

  • Pungent, Foul Odour: The presence of a strong, unpleasant odour may signify an infection, particularly if accompanied by sensations of itching or burning.
  • Alterations in Color: A sudden shift in discharge colour to yellow, green, or grey may indicate an infection.
  • Itching or Burning Sensations: Persistent itching or burning sensations in the vaginal region can be indicative of underlying issues, such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
  • Pain or Discomfort: Experiencing pain during sexual intercourse or urination, coupled with unusual discharge, necessitates prompt consultation with a healthcare professional.

A recent study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology investigated the prevalence and causes of abnormal vaginal discharge among women in England and Wales. The study found that 77% of the women had abnormal vaginal discharge. The most common causes were bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomoniasis, and vaginal candidiasis (VVC).

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and trichomoniasis: common vaginal concerns

Preserving vaginal health is of paramount importance for women, but at times, disruptions in the delicate balance can give rise to discomfort and health issues. Two prevalent conditions that affect women are Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and Trichomoniasis. Let's delve into these conditions and their respective treatment options.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

BV arises when the natural equilibrium of bacteria in the vaginal environment is disturbed. It stands as the primary culprit behind abnormal vaginal discharge in women of reproductive age. Fortunately, BV is typically manageable with antibiotics.


Conversely, Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite. It may manifest with symptoms such as vaginal discharge, itching, and a burning sensation. Similar to BV, trichomoniasis can be effectively addressed with antibiotics.

In both instances, if you suspect you might be dealing with either condition, it is crucial to seek guidance from a healthcare professional for a precise diagnosis and suitable treatment. The maintenance of optimal vaginal health is paramount, and timely medical consultation ensures your comfort and well-being.

VVC is a fungal infection that causes a variety of symptoms, including vaginal discharge, itching, and burning. VVC is usually treated with antifungal medications.

The study also found that women with abnormal vaginal discharge were more likely to have other health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and cervical cancer.

The study's findings highlight the importance of women seeking medical attention if they experience changes in their vaginal discharge. Early diagnosis and treatment of infections can help to prevent complications.

In addition to the infections mentioned above, there are a number of other possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge, including:

  • Allergic reactions to products such as soaps, detergents, and douches
  • Atrophic vaginitis, a condition that causes the vaginal lining to become thin and dry, usually due to menopause
  • Foreign objects in the vagina, such as tampons or forgotten sex toys
  • Hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or menstruation
  • Stress
  • Certain medications

Preserving vaginal health

Safeguarding vaginal health is paramount for overall well-being. Here are some guidelines to assist in maintaining a wholesome vaginal environment:

  • Adherence to Good Hygiene: Employ gentle cleansing of the vaginal area using mild, unscented soap and water. Avoid douching, as it can disrupt the natural vaginal equilibrium.
  • Adequate Hydration: The consumption of ample water contributes to the maintenance of vaginal moisture.
  • Practising Safe Sex: Employ the use of barrier methods like condoms to mitigate the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which may lead to abnormal discharge.
  • Routine Checkups: Regularly schedule visits with a healthcare provider for standard gynaecological examinations to ensure the optimal condition of one's reproductive health.
  • Staying Informed: Maintain awareness of bodily changes, particularly during the menstrual cycle, and promptly seek medical guidance if any unusual developments arise.


Vaginal discharge is a natural and essential part of the female reproductive system. It plays a vital role in keeping the vagina clean, healthy, and lubricated. It can also help to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There are two main types of vaginal discharge:

  • Clear, watery discharge: This is the most common type of discharge and is usually normal. It is caused by the natural production of mucus by the cervix and vagina.
  • White, milky discharge: This type of discharge is also normal, but it is more noticeable during ovulation and pregnancy. It is caused by an increase in the production of estrogen, which thickens the mucus.

Changes in the colour, odour, or amount of vaginal discharge can be a sign of an infection or other health problem. For example, a yellow or green discharge with a foul odour is often a sign of bacterial vaginosis. A thick, white discharge with a cottage cheese-like appearance is often a sign of a yeast infection.

If you are experiencing any changes in your vaginal discharge, it is important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying health problems.

Here are some tips for maintaining good vaginal health:

  • Wash the vulva with mild soap and water once or twice a day.
  • Avoid using douches or scented soaps, as these can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
  • Change your tampon or pad every 4-6 hours or more often if it is heavily soiled.
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear.
  • See a doctor for regular checkups and Pap tests.

By following these tips, you can help to ensure that your vaginal health remains optimal.


Is it normal to experience vaginal discharge on a daily basis?

Yes, it is entirely normal to have some level of vaginal discharge every day. The volume and consistency of discharge may fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.

What factors can trigger an upsurge in vaginal discharge?

Several factors can contribute to an increase in vaginal discharge, including ovulation, sexual arousal, pregnancy, and specific medications.

Can good hygiene alone prevent vaginal infections?

While maintaining proper hygiene is crucial, it is not the sole determinant in preventing infections. Safe sexual practices, regular medical checkups, and a healthy lifestyle all play significant roles in safeguarding vaginal health.

What should I do if I have abnormal vaginal discharge?

If you are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge, it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause and get appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of infections can help to prevent complications.

Here are some additional tips for managing vaginal discharge:

  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear.
  • Avoid using douches or scented soaps, as these can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
  • Change your tampon or pad every 4-6 hours or more often if it is heavily soiled.
  • Wash the vulva with mild soap and water once or twice a day.
  • See a doctor for regular checkups and Pap tests.


  1. Chen, Xiaodi, et al. ‘The Female Vaginal Microbiome in Health and Bacterial Vaginosis’. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, vol. 11, Apr. 2021, p. 631972. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2021.631972.
  2. Rao, Vanishree L., and Tahir Mahmood. ‘Vaginal Discharge’. Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine, vol. 30, no. 1, Jan. 2020, pp. 11–18. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogrm.2019.10.004.
  3. Sherrard, J., et al. ‘European (IUSTI/WHO) Guideline on the Management of Vaginal Discharge, 2011’. International Journal of STD & AIDS, vol. 22, no. 8, Aug. 2011, pp. 421–29. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1258/ijsa.2011.011012.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nurah Ekhlaque

Masters in Biotechnology, Guru Ghasidas University

I'm a highly motivated and skilled biotechnology professional, known for my strong background in research and laboratory work. My proficiency extends to cryosectioning, immunohistochemistry, confocal imaging, and various molecular biology techniques. I am detail-oriented and dedicated to consistently producing high-quality results.

My educational journey led me to a Master's degree in Biotechnology from Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya, India. This academic foundation, combined with my practical experience, fuels my commitment to advancing scientific research and improving human health.

My practical experience includes roles as a Research Assistant at Saarland University in Germany and as an Internship Research Trainee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In these positions, I mastered the use of cryosectioning, immunohistochemistry, and various laboratory techniques, consistently delivering high-quality data for scientific research.

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