Causes of White Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge is a common occurrence. All women without exception experience this condition. The appearance of vaginal discharge can be intimidating, since few people know what it means and whether it signals an illness.
What is White Discharge?
Every woman experiences white vaginal discharge: a thin light fluid secreted by glands in the cervix and the vagina to wash out old cells from its lining, keeping the organ clean, lubricated and free of infection. The amount of discharge varies depending on the time in the woman’s menstrual cycle. It is most commonly experienced just prior or just after menstruation. As a rule, it is not accompanied by pain or itching. If these symptoms are present, this could indicate a yeast infection or another medical condition.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Discharge: How to tell the Difference
As we mentioned above, white discharge, especially before or after menstruation, is a normal occurrence. A healthy vagina will have a balance of bacteria and yeast cells in its walls. The bacteria keep the yeast organisms in check. However, if the body’s natural balance is disrupted, and the number of natural vaginal bacteria drops, yeast cells in the vagina can start growing and spreading, infecting the vaginal mucosa. That’s when the patient can start experiencing typical symptoms of vaginal infection, like thickened, malodorous vaginal discharge, pain, or itching in the vaginal area.
In general, white discharge that doesn’t have a strong smell and isn’t accompanied by itching or soreness is usually harmless and normal.
A change in the color, texture, or odor of vaginal discharge could indicate infection. Here are its most typical warning signs:
- Bad-smelling discharge
- Large amount of discharge
- Change of color
- Unexpected spotting or bleeding
- Itching around the vaginal opening
- Pain in abdomen or pelvis
Causes of White Discharge
There are many potential causes of white vaginal discharge. Here are some of them:
- Bacterial vaginosis. The most common type of vaginal infection, usually mild. Occurs when the “good” bacteria inside the vagina are overwhelmed by the “bad” bacteria, which then grow unchecked.
- Cervicitis, or inflammation of the cervix.
- Yeast infection, also known as candidal vulvovaginitis or vaginal thrush. This condition is often accompanied by itching and pain around the vagina.
- Vaginitis, or vaginal inflammation.
- Vaginal warts. This sexually transmitted disease can also cause white vaginal discharge.
- Other sexually transmitted diseases.
Less common causes of white discharge include:
- Perineal trauma
- Wearing a contraceptive cap on the cervix for a long time
- Vaginal prolapse
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Prolonged use of hormonal contraceptives
- Lax personal hygiene
- Use of some soaps, especially scented ones, on the vagina. (Plain water is recommended)
- Some STDs
Treating White Discharge
The correct way to get rid of white vaginal discharge will depend on its underlying cause. It could be as simple as discontinuing the use of antibiotics or switching to an unscented soap, or it might mean choosing another method of contraception or getting treatment for a metabolic disorder.
If the cause is a yeast infection, one could purchase an OTC antifungal vaginal cream, suppository or pill. This course of treatment can last up to 5-7 days. Before buying any medicine, it is important to consult a doctor and rule out more serious potential causes.
An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure
Preventing infection is always easier than treating it. Follow these guidelines in order to avoid developing an unhealthy condition resulting in white discharge:
- Keep your genital area clean.
- Use condoms to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.
- Wear natural cotton underwear that breathes.
- Don’t wear tight-fitting panties.
- Don’t use deodorant on genital areas.
If you have noticed a change in the color, texture or smell of your vaginal discharge, or if you experience burning, itching, soreness or discomfort around your vagina, schedule an appointment with your Ob/Gyn.