The Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Some Discharge Is a Sign of a Healthy Vagina

Do you know the difference between normal vaginal discharge and abnormal vaginal discharge? Having discharge is a natural part of having a vagina, but sometimes changes in it can signal a problem. Let’s take a look at the various types of vaginal discharge so that you’ll know when yours is abnormal.

Signs of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

The Natural Vagina

The basic function of your vagina is to provide a route from the outside of your vagina to your uterus and the rest of your internal reproductive system. The natural, acidic, pH of your vagina acts to prevent infections and is caused by natural, good, bacteria present in your vagina.

On a "normal" day your vagina keeps itself clean and in a healthy state by producing clear, mucus-like secretions. The natural balance of the vagina can be disrupted by anything that interferes with its normal environment.

Normal Discharge

First, it’s important to understand that all people with vaginas experience some amount of vaginal discharge. Glands in your vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid that flows out of your body every day, taking with it old cells.

Your normal vaginal discharge helps to clean the vagina, as well as keep it lubricated and free from infection and other germs. It does not have a foul smell and typically has no odor at all. Normal vaginal discharge often appears clear or milky when it dries on your panties. Occasionally, you may notice a discharge that is thin and stringy looking. You might call it clear and snotty.

Things that can upset the natural pH balance of your vagina and lead to vaginal infections include:

Your Period Affects Vaginal Discharge

Your menstrual cycle has a significant effect on the type of vaginal discharge you experience throughout the month. About halfway between your periods, you will see a normal increase in clear vaginal discharge. This increased wetness and clear vaginal discharge signal ovulation. That is the time of the month when you are fertile and can get pregnant.

Did you know you’re more likely to experience vaginal infections just before or during your period? This is because the pH balance of your vagina varies during your monthly cycle, causing the acidic level of your to be at its lowest point a few days before and during your period.

Signs of Abnormal Discharge

It's important to recognize the signs of abnormal vaginal discharge because it could be a sign of infection or other health condition. If you experience a vaginal discharge that suddenly and randomly increases, this may be a sign of a problem. Another change that may indicate a problem is a discharge that is bright yellow or greenish in color. A thick clumped or chunky discharge or a very watery discharge can also indicate that something is amiss in your vagina.

Some signs that may indicate an infection include:

  • Changes in color, consistency (sometimes similar to cottage cheese), or amount
  • Itching, discomfort, or a rash
  • Vaginal burning during urination
  • The presence of blood when it’s not time for your period
  • A foul odor accompanied by yellowish, greenish, or grayish-white vaginal discharge

If you have a vaginal discharge along with any of the aforementioned signs, consult your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

What Different Kinds of Discharge Indicate

  • If your discharge is whitish to pale yellow and thick and clumped and you have vaginal itching or burning you likely have a vaginal yeast infection.
  • If you have a discharge that is heavier than usual, that is watery and grayish in color with a foul fishy odor, you likely have bacterial vaginosis.
  • If you are having a vaginal discharge that suddenly increases in amount, that is green or yellowish that has a bad odor, or is causing vaginal symptoms you should see your healthcare provider to determine the cause and to get treatment.

Common Vaginal Infections

Common causes of abnormal vaginal discharges include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV): This is the most common vaginal infection, caused by bacteria. It is treated with antibiotics and won't respond to over-the-counter treatments for yeast infection.
  • Vaginal yeast infections: Vaginal yeast infections are also very common and over-the-counter treatments are available. However, it’s important to never self-diagnose a vaginal yeast infection unless you have previously been diagnosed by your healthcare provider.
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Forgetting to remove a tampon
  • Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs)


The treatment for your vaginal discharge will depend on the underlying cause. For a yeast infection, you can get over-the-counter clotrimazole (Monistat), but you may want to consult your healthcare provider before self-treating. 

For bacterial vaginosis, a prescription is needed. Usually, your healthcare provider will prescribe vaginal metronidazole gel.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing what is normal vaginal discharge and what indicates a problem is important at any age. As you become familiar with what is normal for you, be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you notice any unusual changes.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Miller EA, Beasley DE, Dunn RR, Archie EA. Lactobacilli Dominance and Vaginal pH: Why Is the Human Vaginal Microbiome Unique? Front Microbiol. 2016;7:1936. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01936

  2. Godha K, Tucker KM, Biehl C, Archer DF, Mirkin S. Human vaginal pH and microbiota: an update. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2018;34(6):451-455. doi:10.1080/09513590.2017.1407753

  3. Amabebe E, Anumba DOC. The Vaginal Microenvironment: The Physiologic Role of Lactobacilli. Front Med. 2018;5:181. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00181

  4. Watson CJ, Grando D, Garland SM, Myers S, Fairley CK, Pirotta M. Premenstrual vaginal colonization of Candida and symptoms of vaginitis. J Med Microbiol. 2012;61(Pt 11):1580-1583. doi:10.1099/jmm.0.044578-0

  5. Paladine HL, Desai UA. Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(5):321-329.

  6. Martin Lopez JE. Candidiasis (vulvovaginal). BMJ Clin Evid. 2015:0815

  7. Hay P. Bacterial vaginosis. F1000Res. 2017;6:1761. doi:10.12688/f1000research.11417.1

  8. Paladine HL, Desai UA. Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(5):321-329.

  9. Qin F, Wang Q, Zhang C, et al. Efficacy of antifungal drugs in the treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis: a Bayesian network meta-analysis. Infect Drug Resist. 2018;11:1893-1901. doi:10.2147/IDR.S175588

  10. Chavoustie SE, Jacobs M, Reisman HA, et al. Metronidazole vaginal gel 1.3% in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis: a dose-ranging study. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2015;19(2):129-134. doi:10.1097/LGT.0000000000000062