Understanding Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not, and When to Seek Help

By eMed on 3 min read
Understanding Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not, and When to Seek Help

Let’s Talk About Vaginal Discharge

How’s that for a conversation starter? 

We know vaginal discharge is probably one of the last subjects you want to discuss in detail—especially when it involves unfamiliar smells, colors, and consistency. But it’s something every woman is familiar with and can sometimes be one of the first indicators that you’re dealing with an infection. 

In other words, what comes out of your vagina is worth paying attention to and discussing with your doctor when you think something’s up. 

We've put together a video going through each discharge, but keep on reading if you'd like to learn more.  


Alright, let’s chat. What’s considered normal? 

Healthy discharge should be clear, milky white, or off white. The thickness and texture of it may change at different stages of your cycle, ranging from watery to sticky to pasty. Each woman’s vaginal discharge has a distinct odor, unique to themselves and familiar. It shouldn’t have a strong foul odor. 

As for the amount of vaginal discharge you produce, it can vary from person to person. It can also be influenced by factors like ovulation, pregnancy, or the use of birth control pills. You should only be concerned about this if there are any sudden changes in the amount of discharge your body produces. 

What are some red flags to look out for? 

Some of the most common vaginal infections don’t always cause noticeable symptoms, especially early on. However, your vaginal discharge could signal something isn’t right, even if you feel fine otherwise. 

Some indicators of an infection or underlying medical condition include:

  • A pungent odor
  • Chunky or foamy texture that comes with an itching or burning sensation
  • Discharge that’s green, gray, brown, or dark yellow

What does each sign mean? 

It’s true that changes to your vaginal discharge doesn’t always indicate an infection or health issue. Sometimes our discharge just changes as a result of hormones. However, healthcare professionals have noticed the following connections between some symptoms and certain conditions. 

  • Yellow, gray, or green discharge could indicate a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a bacterial infection. 
  • Brown or red discharge could be related to pregnancy or an irregular period.
  •  Discharge that resembles cottage cheese could indicate a yeast infection. 
  • Discharge that’s green, yellow, or gray with a frothy consistency could indicate trichomoniasis, a STI. 
  • If your discharge has a foul, fishy smell, you could have bacterial vaginosis (BV). 
  • Green or yellow discharge that’s cloudy could be related to gonorrhea or chlamydia. 

Keep in mind that it’s possible to have multiple infections at the same time, and these are associations, not diagnostic.. 

How do I know if something’s going on down there? 

The best thing to do is start with a medical test. eMed’s Women’s Health Kits make it easy to screen for some of the most common vaginal infections—including UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections—from the comfort of your home. 

You can start by ordering a test kit from eMed.com. It should arrive at your home within two business days. Then, simply scan the code on your test kit to begin a telehealth session.

A proctor will guide you through collecting and testing a sample. All results are sent to a licensed clinician who will evaluate your results and symptoms, and prescribe treatment to your pharmacy of choice, if needed.

If your results don’t indicate a UTI, yeast infection, or bacterial vaginosis but you’re still experiencing abnormal discharge, you should make an appointment with a doctor or visit an urgent care for further testing and treatment. 

Talking about vaginal discharge can be uncomfortable, but it can help you catch and treat potentially dangerous infections and health conditions before they progress to something serious. In many cases, however, it may not even be necessary to speak to your clinician again. They will review your symptoms, evaluate your test results, and send in the prescription without having to speak with you again.

If you’re still feeling awkward about discussing changes in your vaginal discharge with a healthcare provider, remember that they’ve likely seen and heard it all. Their profession is treating patients with all kinds of symptoms—including these. 

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