Causes of Yellow Vaginal Discharge

Pale yellow discharge is usually normal, but darker colors may mean infection

Yellow discharge from your vagina may be a sign of an upcoming period, pregnancy, or just its natural self-cleaning process. However, it can also indicate a sexually transmitted infection or other condition that requires treatment. The latter is particularly likely if the discharge is dark yellow or yellow/green, or if it has a foul odor.

This article explains what causes yellow vaginal discharge, as well as how and when to treat it. It discusses how symptoms that accompany discharge, such as itching, may indicate that you need to see your healthcare provider.

Normal Yellow Discharge

Discharge from the vagina is normal, and it can happen at any time throughout the menstrual cycle.

Normal discharge that is not a cause for concern is:

  • White
  • Transparent
  • Odorless
  • Thick to thin

Discharge that is clear may turn yellow upon contact with the air or other interactions with the vaginal environment. However, there are instances in which yellow discharge is not normal and may indicate that you have an infection.

Causes of Yellow Discharge

Certain types of discharge are associated with bacterial and sexually transmitted infections or underlying conditions.

Potential Causes of Yellow Vaginal Discharge

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Menstruation

Discharge that turns yellow upon contact with air may happen at any time during the menstrual cycle. In the middle of the menstrual cycle, some people may notice an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge they experience. This is due to increased estrogen levels.

During this time, the discharge may change color and may be:

  • Whitish
  • Creamy
  • Cloudy
  • Yellow

Early Pregnancy

An increase in discharge can be an indication of pregnancy. In pregnancy, the body prepares for birth by softening the cervix (the lower neck of the uterus that connects to the vagina) and vaginal walls. To stop infections from reaching the womb (uterus), the body produces more discharge.

This discharge is normal and is usually clear or white. However, it may turn yellow upon contact with the air, such as when it remains in underwear for a while.

Vaginitis

Vaginitis is a term used to describe a number of conditions that can cause infections and inflammation in the vagina. These can include infections stemming from bacteria, viruses, or yeast, as well as vaginal irritation due to the use of sprays or chemicals near the vagina.

Vaginitis may cause symptoms like:

  • Pain or discomfort during intercourse
  • Burning sensation with urination
  • Itching outside the vagina
  • Abnormal discharge that may be yellow or green
  • Abnormal discharge that has an unpleasant odor

STIs Such as Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause yellow discharge from the vagina.

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. It is the most common nonviral form of sexually transmitted infection in the world. It is possible to have it without realizing it because it doesn't always cause symptoms. However, trichomoniasis may cause a discharge from the vagina that is:

  • Thin
  • Sometimes foamy
  • Yellow
  • Greenish
  • White
  • Foul smelling

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are caused by bacteria and are common sexually transmitted infections. They may cause a discharge from the vagina that is:

  • Yellow
  • White
  • Gray
  • Foul smelling (chlamydia)

You may also experience:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Pain or burning when urinating

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that impacts the reproductive organs (the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries).

Not everyone will experience symptoms. But those who do may have:

  • Fever
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Unusual discharge that has a bad odor
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Burning when urinating
  • Bleeding during sexual intercourse
  • Pain during intercourse

Cervicitis

Cervicitis refers to an inflammation of the cervix. It has infectious and noninfectious causes. Often, the condition will not cause any symptoms at all. But those who do have symptoms may experience:

  • Irritation in the vagina
  • Irritation in the vulva (the external genitalia)
  • Painful sex
  • Vaginal bleeding during or after vaginal sex

As well, cervicitis may cause an abnormal vaginal discharge that persists and may be:

  • Yellow
  • Gray
  • White
  • Foul smelling

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when the balance of microbes normally found in the vagina becomes disturbed, leading to irritation. There may be no symptoms.

When there are symptoms, a strong, fishy odor is common. The discharge may be thin and watery and is often described as off-white or gray, but it may be yellow or greenish.

Yellow Discharge During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a person may experience an increase in discharge. This is normal and nothing to worry about. Healthy discharge during pregnancy is clear and white and doesn't have a smell. If this discharge is left in underwear for a while, it may turn yellow due to contact with the air.

However, if you're pregnant, speak with your healthcare provider if the discharge is:

  • Greenish
  • Brownish
  • Smelly
  • Accompanied by itch or pain

This can be a sign of an infection that requires medical attention.

Preventing Yellow Discharge

While clear discharge that turns yellow in underwear is nothing to worry about, there are ways to prevent yellow discharge that stems from infections or irritations.

Use Protection

Using protection (barrier methods such as condoms during sex) prevents the risks of both STIs and pregnancy. Condoms can work to prevent both STIs and pregnancy, but they must be worn correctly in order to be effective.

Also, condoms cannot offer complete protection against syphilis, herpes, or human papillomavirus (HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer).

Know Sexual Partners

If you are having sex, it is important to be honest with your partner about your own sexual history, as well as asking questions about their past sexual history.

Before having sex:

  • Talk about when you were both last tested for STIs, then plan to get tested together.
  • Ask if your partner has any STIs, and disclose if you have any STIs.
  • Discuss if you will be having sex only with each other.
  • Make an agreement to use condoms during sex for the entire sex act. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Avoid Douching

Douching is rinsing the vagina by forcing water or other solutions into it. The vagina is naturally self-cleaning, and douching is not necessary.

The chemicals found in douches can be irritating to the vagina and can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria found in the vagina. Douching can cause infections to spread to the uterus and, in turn, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.

The smells you notice in your genital area typically come from outside the vagina, in the vulva. You can keep the vulva clean by washing with water and a gentle soap.

Avoid Fragrances

Fragrances found in some products can be irritating to the vagina and can also change the levels of healthy bacteria in the vagina.

It is best to avoid fragrances found in:

  • Feminine hygiene sprays
  • Soap
  • Bubble bath
  • Douches

When to See a Healthcare Provider for Treatment

Anytime you are concerned about your health, you should speak with your healthcare professional.

Contact your provider right away if you have:

  • Abnormal discharge
  • Fever
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Exposure to an STI

How Do I Get Rid of Yellow Discharge?

Treatment for yellow discharge will depend on what is causing the discharge and other symptoms. The underlying cause may require prescription medications. For some bacterial infections, this will include antibiotics.

Summary

Yellow discharge can be normal and simply a sign of regular clear discharge changing color upon contact with the air. But it may also be a sign of infections, including STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease. Yellow discharge may also be noted in early pregnancy. If you are concerned about your discharge or your health, speak with your healthcare professional.

A Word From Verywell

Being aware of both normal and unusual changes in your vaginal discharge is a good health habit. Your discharge will change throughout your menstrual cycle. Knowing this can help you spot signs that may indicate a problem and get it diagnosed before it causes complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does yellow discharge mean?

    Yellow discharge can be healthy and may just be regular clear discharge that has turned yellow upon contact with the air. It may also be a sign of early pregnancy or infection.

  • Is yellow discharge normal?

    Discharge from the vagina is normal. It may be clear and then turn yellow upon contact with the air. However, yellow discharge can also be a sign of infections like STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • What does chlamydia look like?

    Symptoms of chlamydia often resemble symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Symptoms may include yellow discharge, painful urination, and spotting between periods or after sex. Chlamydia may also be asymptomatic.

15 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.
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