What Causes Vaginal Odor?

What Causes Vaginal Odor?

Vaginal odor refers to any odor that comes from the vagina. Typically, the vagina has no odor or only a mild odor. If vaginal odor is strong, it could indicate that there is an underlying issue—especially if it is accompanied by itching, burning, irritation, discharge or other symptoms. In this article, we explore vaginal odor causes and cures.

 

What Causes Vaginal Odor?

 

Vaginal odor can be caused by a number of factors, and it is not always a cause for concern. If you do not have any symptoms associated with your vaginal odor it is unlikely that it is a serious issue. Some of the most common vaginal odor causes are:

 

  • Menstrual cycle
  • Sweating
  • Hygiene
  • Diet
  • Sex
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Bacterial infection

 

These last two causes are the most concerning regarding what causes bad vaginal odor.

 

Sexually Transmitted Infections

 

Trichomoniasis graphic

 

Some sexually transmitted infections (STI) can cause vaginal odor. Trichomoniasis, in particular, is an STI that can lead to vaginal odor. Trichomoniasis is caused by a protozoan parasite and is the most common curable STD. The CDC estimates that there were more than two million trichomoniasis infections in the United States in 2018.

 

 

According to the CDC: “The parasite passes from an infected person to an uninfected person during sex. In women, the most commonly infected part of the body is the lower genital tract (vulva, vagina, cervix, or urethra). In men, the most commonly infected body part is the inside of the penis (urethra). During sex, the parasite usually spreads from a penis to a vagina, or from a vagina to a penis. It can also spread from a vagina to another vagina. It is not common for the parasite to infect other body parts, like the hands, mouth, or anus. It is unclear why some people with the infection get symptoms while others do not. It probably depends on factors like a person’s age and overall health. Infected people without symptoms can still pass the infection on to others.”

 

While not everyone experiences symptoms of trichomoniasis, one commonly experienced symptom is vaginal odor. Other STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, typically do not cause an odor.

 

Bacterial Infections

 

Bacterial infections are another common cause of vaginal odor. The most common bacterial infection is bacterial vaginosis, caused by the overgrowth of bacteria that is already found in the vagina. When these bacteria overgrow, it can upset the natural balance in the vaginal microbiome and can contribute to odor.

 

According to Mayo Clinic, bacterial vaginosis signs and symptoms may include:

  • Thin, gray, white or green vaginal discharge
  • Foul-smelling "fishy" vaginal odor
  • Vaginal itching
  • Burning during urination

 

Many women with bacterial vaginosis have no signs or symptoms.

 

While vaginal odor can occur for other reasons, it is important to see your doctor if you are concerned about vaginal odor that won’t go away—especially if you experience other symptoms like burning, itching, or discharge.

 

The good news is both bacterial vaginosis and the sexually transmitted trichomoniasis parasite are treatable infections.

 

Other Causes of Vaginal Odor

 

Other causes of vaginal odor that are less concerning can also be treated.

 

Sweating

 

It is no secret that sweat can contribute to body odor. Sweat can also contribute to vaginal odor. This can also tie back to our diet, as what we eat can influence whether our sweat smells or not.

 

Hygiene

 

Vaginal hygiene is also very important to prevent vaginal odor. Some tips for vulva care, according to Cleveland Clinic, include:

 

  • Using warm water to wash the vulva and drying it thoroughly with a clean towel. (If the vulva is irritated, you can try drying it with a blow dryer set on cool.)

 

  • The vagina cleanses itself naturally in the form of normal, vaginal discharge. Avoid using douches unless prescribed by your physician. These products can upset the natural balance of organisms.

 

  • Wear only white, 100 percent cotton underwear. Avoid wearing nylon, acetate, or other manmade fibers if you have delicate skin or are prone to vulvar irritation.

 

  • Avoid wearing thongs.

 

  • Wash new underclothes before wearing.

 

  • Use tampons instead of sanitary napkins to control menstrual bleeding. (Do not use deodorant tampons.) Do not leave tampons in for a long period, due to toxic shock syndrome. Do not leave tampons in all night.

 

  • Take sitz baths daily, if prescribed by your healthcare provider.

 

  • Don't scratch.

 

  • Avoid wearing nylon pantyhose or panty girdles. They trap heat and moisture, providing an ideal breeding environment for organisms. When nylons or leggings are required, wear cotton or nylons with a cotton panty.

 

  • Avoid these feminine hygiene products, which can irritate the vulva: sanitary pads, feminine spray and deodorants, scented oils, bubble baths, bath oils, talc or powder.

 

Diet

 

What we eat can influence the way that our body smells. Eating asparagus, for example, may cause your urine to smell. Eating spicy foods often cause body odor. Additionally, some evidence suggests that what you eat can affect your vaginal odor. Eating a food with a strong odor, such as onion or garlic for example, could cause your vagina to smell. If you have been eating foods with a strong odor, try to stop eating these foods to see if the smell goes away. This is the simplest way to determine if your diet is the cause of your vaginal odor.

 

Sex

 

Sex can also contribute to vaginal odor. When semen interacts with vaginal fluid it can cause an odor. Certain lubricants can also cause an odor as they may affect vaginal pH. However, if there is a strong, fishy odor after sexual intercourse it is typically a sign of bacterial vaginosis.

 

How to Get Rid of Vaginal Odor

 

The way to get rid of vaginal odor will depend on the cause of the odor. As mentioned it is best to focus on hygiene and not on using douches, deodorants, or any products that can irritate the vulva, including sanitary pads, feminine spray, scented oils, bubble baths, bath oils, talc or powder.

 

Adjusting your diet may also help get rid of vaginal odor. Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and tangerines have been reported to make the smell and taste of vaginal fluids sweeter, and some research shows that women who follow a vegetarian diet tend to have a milder vaginal odor.

 

Other foods that may help get rid of vaginal odor include:

 

  • Yogurt (with live probiotic cultures)
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Cranberry juice
  • Leafy green vegetables

 

These foods help get rid of vaginal odor in different ways. Yogurt that contains probiotic cultures, or simply a good multi-strain probiotic supplement, can help to restore bacterial balance in the gut, which may have an effect on vaginal odor.

 

Pineapple is rich in fiber, Vitamin C and B vitamins, all of which contribute to gut health and immunity and can protect from bacterial infections.

 

Apples contain many antioxidants as well as the phytoestrogen phloridzin. Together, these stimulate blood flow in your vagina, supporting vaginal health. Research on compounds in apples suggests that they can also prevent the development of uterine fibroids—which are noncancerous growths that can occur on the uterus.

 

Cranberries are high in vitamin C, rich in antioxidants and are well-known for fighting off infections—all of which can support vaginal health and prevent vaginal odor.

 

Leafy green vegetables contain many important nutrients, plenty of fiber, and are high in chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a compound in plants that is responsible for their green color. Chlorophyll has many health benefits and research shows it may reduce body odor.

 

If vaginal odor is caused by an infection, then you will need to get rid of that infection to get rid of vaginal odor. If you have vaginal odor that won’t go away, it is recommended to consult with your doctor.

 

Summary

 

Vaginal odor refers to any odor that comes from the vagina. Typically, the vagina has no odor or only a mild odor. If vaginal odor is strong, it could indicate that there is an underlying issue—especially if it is accompanied by itching, burning, irritation, discharge or other symptoms.

 

Vaginal odor can be caused by a number of factors. Some of the most common vaginal odor causes are:

 

  • Menstrual cycle
  • Sweating
  • Hygiene
  • Diet
  • Sex
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Bacterial infection

 

The last two causes being most concerning regarding what causes bad vaginal odor.

The way to get rid of vaginal odor will depend on the cause of the odor. As mentioned it is best to focus on hygiene and not on using douches, deodorants, or any products that can irritate the vulva, including sanitary pads, feminine spray, scented oils, bubble baths, bath oils, talc or powder.

 

Adjusting your diet may also help get rid of vaginal odor. Studies suggest women on vegetarian diets have a milder vaginal odor. While research on certain foods suggests they may also help reduce vaginal odor.

 

If vaginal odor is caused by an infection, then you will need to get rid of that infection to get rid of vaginal odor. If you have vaginal odor that won’t go away, it is recommended to consult with your doctor.

 

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vaginal-odor/basics/causes/sym-20050664?p=1

https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4976-vulvar-care

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4807032/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20003665/

 

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