What To Do About Strong Vaginal Odour

by | Jun 18, 2020 | Women's Health | 4 comments

🕓 Reading time: 4 minutes

Despite the unrealistic social expectations placed upon women, your vagina will never smell like a springtime orchid.

Strong or unusual vaginal odour is very common among all age groups.

It’s often accompanied by a change in discharge. It’s entirely normal to have clear or white discharge that changes throughout your monthly cycle.

Sometimes, it’ll dry to a slight yellow colour in your underwear.


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However, normal vaginal discharge shouldn’t generally bother you. If a curious odour is evident for more than a few days or is noticeably strong, you may have something going on downstairs.

Women sometimes describe the odd smell as fishy, yeasty, ammonia-like, or even metallic.

When accompanied by vaginal discomfort, itching, or a change in the colour or amount of discharge compared to normal, you can be almost certain something is amiss.

Your vagina does an excellent job taking care of itself. With a healthy pH (acidity) level between 3.8 and 4.5, it will self-clean while fighting off nasty, odour-causing bacteria.

On the other hand, problems can arise if the balance of pH, bacteria, and yeast is interrupted.

ph scale chart

What Can Cause an Unusual Vaginal Odour?

There are lots of possible causes of a smelly vagina, and here are a few of the most common.

BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection affecting women aged 15 to 44.

It’s caused by a bacterial imbalance in the vagina, with a reduction of the ‘good’ vaginal bacteria (lactobacillus) and an overgrowth of the ‘bad’ Gardnerella bacteria. The latter is commonly found at lower levels in the vagina.

Typical symptoms include a fishy odour and grey or watery vaginal discharge.

LOST TAMPON

Most GPs have removed tampons forgotten from previous menstrual cycles. Women are often mortified when this happens, yet I reassure them that they’re only human with busy lives full of distractions.

Once you’ve had a tampon removed, it’s important to be alert to any ongoing vaginal discomfort or flu-like symptoms. Any abnormal odours or discharge should disappear after a few days.

Please see your GP if symptoms don’t improve.

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STI)

Trichomonas is an uncommon sexually transmitted infection that can result in a change in vaginal odour.

More common STIs such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia, don’t tend to cause a change in odour.

Tips on Genital Hygiene

Here are some great hygiene tips to consider practising as part of your routine.

vaginal smell

GENTLE WASHING HELPS PH STAY BALANCED

Avoid washing your genital area with soap – especially inside your vagina. Most soaps, including scented body wash and so-called ‘feminine products’, can mess with the vagina’s natural acidity, helping ‘bad’ bacteria to flourish.

Warm water does the job just fine.

As semen and lubricants can interrupt your pH level while introducing bacteria, it’s wise to wash after sexual intercourse.

I’m certainly not suggesting you ruin the mood by rushing into the shower; just have a good rinse when you can.

SAY “NO” TO DOUCHES

As your vagina is perfectly capable of cleaning itself, there’s no need for douches.

Douches are unnecessary products commonly marketed in the USA to ‘keep your vagina clean’. There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever for this claim.

Worse still, douching will likely wash away the good bacteria in your vagina. The result is often a compromised pH level, followed by unwanted infections and odours.

AVOID INTERNAL DEODORISING PRODUCTS

Avoid any products that suggest your vagina should smell like coconut vanilla pudding. The concept is utterly ridiculous.

Marketers play on many women’s insecurities about natural vaginal odour being off-putting. I find it offensive to infer women’s genitals are dirty and need to be freshened and perfumed.

Vaginal deodorisers are bad for you, and they can unbalance your vaginal flora and create the problems they claim to solve.

WEAR CLOTHING THAT LETS YOUR VAGINA BREATH

Cotton underwear is preferable to silk or polyester undies. Err on the side of loose clothing. Change out of sweaty activewear ASAP after exercise.

I don’t recommend wearing pantyliners every day, either. They can irritate your genital skin.

It’s also a good idea to remove any wet clothes as soon as practical following swimming or exercise.

Some other hygiene tips:

  • Always wipe your vagina from front to back.
  • Take a shower after exercise or excessive sweating.
  • Don’t insert objects into your vagina that have been in your anus, such as sex toys.
  • To avoid a UTI, remember to urinate after intercourse.

When to Visit Your GP

You know your body better than anyone else. My advice? Follow your instincts. If you feel things aren’t quite right, skip the home remedies and over-the-counter treatments and get to your GP.

vagina odour gp appointment

Indicators you may need to visit a doctor include:

  • an odour that seems to be getting stronger;
  • a persistent change in the colour or amount of vaginal discharge; or
  • itching or burning.

Your GP will usually take a detailed history, perform an examination and possibly collect a vaginal swab. If you don’t feel comfortable with having a GP take a swab, you can always self-collect in the clinic’s bathroom.

Some vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, can be treated with internal creams and gels. STIs such as trichomonas might require tablet antibiotics.

It’s best to avoid over-the-counter products such as the Vagisil and Femfresh range, as they can do more harm than good. Studies have shown that such products impact lactobacillus growth – the good bacteria in your vagina.

Please don’t delay seeing a GP if any of the above indicators are present.

Infections that aren’t adequately treated can cause further complications with your pelvic area and even lead to infertility.


Doctor Achala Manchanda blog

Dr Achala Manchanda is a local GP at Doctors of South Melbourne.

She has special interests in women’s health and sexual health.

You can make an appointment with Achala online or call us on 8579 6838.


4 Comments

  1. Scara

    I have a friend who has the problem of bad odour in the vagina but am afraid of telling her what should I do to help her

    Reply
    • Dr Elaine Sung

      Hi Scara,

      Telling a friend that they have bad odour of any kind can be daunting. It’s also a very caring thing to do – a conversation most people would like a friend to have with them if they smelt.

      How you tell your friend depends on many factors, including how close you are to them, the right timing (e.g. not just before work or Uni), and their sensitivity to personal feedback.

      Overall, keeping the conversation short and to the point is generally best. You may want to consider these tips:

      – Speak to your friend in private.
      – Mention that you’re aware that this is an uncomfortable but necessary conversation.
      – Keep it between you and your friend – don’t say other people have also noticed an odour.
      – Point out to your friend that you’d like it if she did the same for you.
      – Let them respond.
      – Be respectful and offer practical suggestions, such as visiting their GP. Treatments for vagina odour are generally quite effective.

      Kind regards,
      Dr Elaine Sung
      Principal GP
      Doctors of South Melbourne

      Reply
  2. N

    I have experienced vaginal odour since I was about 13 years old (now 21) I have been to multiple GP’s and done blood tests, swab tests (mainly for Infections) and urine tests over the course of the last 8 years but everything has always come back as normal. I had my first consensual sexual partner when I was 18 (was sexually abused when I was young) and was found to be positive for an STI a few months ago and took medication for it, only my current partner tested negative for that same STI. I thought maybe the odour was due the STI and contracted from my SA however, after taking the medication the odour went away for a week and then came back. Since then I have been back to my GP to take tests to make sure the STI was gone and everything was normal but my GP mentioned that I had an imbalance in the microflora in my vagina and he believes that to be the cause of my odour however, he then told me that there is nothing I can do to treat it. I really feel discouraged and lost as this has been an issue haunting me my whole life and makes me extremely insecure about my general odour. Especially as my partner has said he smells it too. I don’t know if my GP’s assumption is correct but if it is, is there really nothing I can do to treat it and help me feel normal? Sorry for the rant, just feel as though it wouldn’t hurt to get a second medical opinion.

    Reply
    • Doctors of South Melbourne

      Hi N,

      We’re sorry you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for many years – it must be very frustrating.

      Though we can’t provide medical advice in a public setting like this website, getting a second opinion from a GP with fresh eyes is a great idea. Feel free to visit Dr Achala at a time convenient to you. She is an excellent Women’s Health doctor who’d love to help you where she can.

      Kind regards,
      Doctors of South Melbourne

      Reply

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