While some vaginal odour is normal, a strong, unpleasant smell that is persistent can be cause for alarm.
A musty odour especially one that persists for days and smells like fish can be a symptom of a health issue.
Abnormal vaginal odour is often accompanied by other symptoms, including greyish-white discharge, burning and itching.
Together, these are often symptoms of a condition called vaginitis.
Who is at risk for vaginal odour?
While any woman can experience vaginal odour, those at a higher risk are;
- Women with poor hygiene
- Pregnant women
- Women who use douches
Women having a new sexual partner and those that frequently change partners, may also be at higher risk for abnormal vaginal odour.
What causes vaginal odour?
Abnormal vaginal odour can be caused by infection or inflammation. When the normal vaginal bacteria levels are imbalanced, this can lead to vaginitis.
Specific causes include:
- Bacterial vaginosis: An infection that occurs from an overgrowth of normal vaginal bacteria. This is the most common cause for vaginal odour
- Trichomoniasis: A sexually transmitted infection.
- Rectovaginal fistula: A rare condition in which an opening between the rectum and vagina allows faeces to leak into the vagina.
- Vaginal cancer: Symptoms include heavy vaginal discharge that can have a strong odour.
- Cervical cancer: Symptoms can include a strong (bad-smelling) discharge. Cancer is a rare cause of abnormal vaginal odour.
Nevertheless, temporary vaginal odour is common and often resolves on its own. This can be due to hormonal changes, or even diet. For example, foods with a strong smell such as garlic or fish can cause odour changes in the vagina.
How is abnormal vaginal odour diagnosed?
In order to determine which type of bacteria may be causing your vaginitis, your doctor will take a sample of your discharge. The most common cause of the abnormal vaginal odour is high levels of Gardnerella bacteria.
How to treat vaginal odour.
Abnormal vaginal odour goes away without treatment at least a third of the time. If it does not resolve on its own, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics. These can be taken in a pill or cream form.
Can vaginal odour be prevented?
Women can reduce their risk of abnormal vaginal odour by taking precautions. These include:
- Practising good hygiene by taking regular showers.
- Avoiding the use of douches, an intravaginal liquid cleansing solution. This can upset the pH levels in the vagina and lead to infection.