One of the most sensitive and private parts of the female body is vagina. It also serves as the only route of entry of viable sperms to facilitate fertilization in order to achieve healthy conception. It is therefore very important for females to maintain optimal hygienic conditions within the genital tract. A foul smelling vagina can affect all aspects of a female’s life, thereby leading to loss of self-confidence. In addition, vaginal smell also brings shame and embarrassment at occasions, leading to compromised sexual relationships. But it does happen you may wonder: Why does my vagina smell?
My Vagina Smells—Is It Normal?
Yes, it is normal if the smell is not too bad.
It should be noticed that vagina maintains its fluid composition at an average of pH 4.5 and this maintenance of pH is achieved with the help of vaginal flora (bacteria which grows and lives in vaginal region). These bacteria can sometimes emit odor along with vaginal discharge, which is completely normal but emission of excessive disagreeable odor indicates the presence of an un-natural vaginal composition.
Why Does My Vagina Smell?
Altered pH (Bacterial Vaginosis)
This happens because the acidic pH of vagina is shifted to a more basic level, thereby allowing the over-growth of unhealthy bacteria. The actual cause of bacterial vaginosis is not known but physicians believe that alteration in the vaginal pH is possibly due to douching and engaging in unprotected sex.
Other symptoms include fishy smell, grey colored vaginal discharge as well as itching.
Sweating is profuse in some certain areas of the body due to tissue alignment or metabolism. Some sweat producing areas include underarms, area between fingers and urogenital or vaginal region. This increased sweat may produce an unpleasant smell when mixed with vaginal discharge. Although it is a physiological phenomenon, yet too much smell can cause embarrassment at occasions.
It is recommended that the person must change clothes after heavy workouts such as exercise and wear comfortable and breathable cotton based under-clothing.
Medications such as antibiotics may cause imbalance of the bacteria in your vagina, thus influence your vaginal odor and discharge. Antihistamines may cause vaginal secretions to decrease and dryness in the vagina, which may also have negative effect of your vaginal odor. Vaginal odor may also change owing to some herbal therapies and some essential oils you apply.
Any change in the hormonal system directly affects the reproductive and genital areas which clearly includes vagina. These changes are often associated with increased or decreased bacterial growth that may alter the pH of vagina and produces smell. Menopause, use of contraceptive pills and menstrual changes also contributes to the hormonal factors.
Yeast infection in vagina is also termed as vaginal candidiasis. It is caused by a fungus Candida albicans, which is a normal commensal of the vaginal region. The increased growth of candida in vagina is seen in the setting of hormonal or metabolic factors and according to latest estimates, every three women out of four develops this infection during their life span. The factors which are responsible for this yeast growth include unprotected intercourse, pregnancy, excessive use of antibiotics and compromised immune system.
The symptoms of vaginal candidiasis include thick cheesy discharge, irritation and itching in vagina.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis can cause a bad vaginal smell; it is caused by a small parasite which grows in the urogenital areas. Early identification can help the management of infection and resolution of smelly vagina. Other symptoms include yellowish to green color vaginal discharge, frothy texture of vaginal discharge, itching, pain while urinating as well as pain and feeling of being uncomfortable during sex.
Besides trichomoniasis, other sexually transmitted infections which may also lead to serious bad smell in the vagina are chlamydia and gonorrhea. These bacterial infections respond very well to antibiotics and other therapeutic management options. Symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrheal infection include pain in urination, itching and dryness, thick mucus and pus like discharge from vagina.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
PID or pelvic inflammatory disease majorly affects the reproductive organs such as uterus, fallopian tube, ovaries etc. It first originates as sexually transmitted disease then progresses to pelvic inflammatory disease that is marked by adhesions, strictures and chronic gnawing ache. Appropriate treatment is necessary to minimize the risk of permanent infertility and other complications.
Symptoms of PID or pelvic inflammatory disease include high grade fever, thick vaginal discharge, as well as pain in pelvis, during intercourse and in urination.
One of the fairly common culprits of unbearable smell in vagina is a forgotten tampon. Some clinical cases of foul smelling vagina in young females are due to forgotten tampons that increases the risk of vaginal infection. The disagreeable smell mimics as if something died in the vagina. However, the smell resolves as soon as the tampon is removed.
Vaginal or Cervical Cancer
Vaginal and cervical cancer can also present with foul smelling vagina in some cases. It is important to identify the staging and associated symptoms of the cancer to warrant effective treatment options. One significant risk factor for the development of cervical cancer is human papilloma virus (HPV) with certain strains. Appropriate testing for HPV can help in early identification and treatment.
Symptoms include strong smell, thick discharge from vagina, bleeding at unexpected occasions (not during menstrual period), pain in pelvis and during urination.
Rectovaginal fistula is a rather uncommon condition. It happens when there is a misconnection between the rectum and vagina. The disposed contents found in rectum and intestines (such as stool, fecal material and gases) may make their way through vagina instead of their original exit point i.e. rectum. This condition is very rare but do seek emergent and immediate treatment to minimize the risk of life threatening septicemia and other infections.
The symptoms of rectovaginal fistula include gas or fecal discharge in vagina, extremely bad smell, prevalence of multiple urinary tract infections, pain in vagina, pelvic region and irritation in vagina.
- Consult with the physician if any other significant sign or symptom is present along with bad odor from vagina.