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What Does Vaginal Odor Mean?

You shower regularly, you eat a healthy diet and you change your underwear daily – and even wear a panty liner, but for some reason, you still have a funny stench downstairs. This can make you feel uncomfortable when your partner wants to perform oral on you, or even when people come close to you, not to mention at the gynecologist. If you’re struggling with vaginal odor and have tried everything under the sun to rid yourself of the problem, here’s what you should know about the various causes of it so you can stop feeling self-conscious.

Many women think their vagina should be odorless, but as with everywhere else on our body, it actually has a scent that can be fairly complex. If that scent becomes unpleasant, though, it could indicate a problem. Here are the five most common causes of unpleasant vaginal odor, and (where relevant) how they’re treated.

Infection – The most common explanation for an unpleasant vaginal odor is an infection called bacterial vaginosis. No one knows what causes it; the infectious agent or agents have yet to be identified. Signs that you might have it include a fishy odor, as well as a thin white or gray discharge and a burning sensation while urinating or having intercourse. The infection is likely transmitted sexually and is treated with specific antibiotics.

A yeast infection can cause a yeast-like smell and a thick, white discharge, as well as itching, soreness, and burning during urination and intercourse. It occurs when yeast, which are normally present in the vagina, overgrow. That often occurs after taking antibiotics that kill bacteria, which allows the yeast to grow without competition from the “good” bacteria that normally keep them in check. That’s one more reason to take antibiotics only if needed. Yeast infections are treated with antifungal medication. They are not sexually transmitted.

Hormonal Changes- Vaginal secretions during menstruation and between ovulation and your next period may have a more unpleasant odor than those during other parts of the cycle, according to some older research. Another potential hormonal cause is menopause, during which reduced estrogen levels cause vaginal tissue to thin and become less acidic. Many women undergoing menopause notice a smelly, watery discharge. If the smell causes you distress, your doctor may prescribe topical estrogen, which usually eliminates the odor in a few weeks. Since estrogen vaginal cream is absorbed to a small extent into the bloodstream, it should only be used after discussing the pros and cons with your physician.

Sweat- As you’ve probably noticed, a sweaty groin is a smelly one. That’s because your external genitals have a special kind of gland called apocrine sweat glands (also found in the armpits, nipples, ear canals, eyelids, and wings of your nostrils). These glands secrete an oily fluid that’s metabolized by bacteria on your skin, letting off a noticeable smell. Wearing tight clothing or being overweight can exacerbate the problem by trapping sweat and bacteria on the skin or, in the case of excess weight, in skin folds.

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