One of the confusing situations for the female is trying to figure out if a vaginal discharge is normal or not and what it means. Contrary to what some think, a vaginal discharge does not always mean an infection or trouble, it can also be perfectly normal. Tiny glands inside the vagina and cervix usually produces small amounts of fluid. This fluid or secretions leaks from the vagina each day to remove old cells and debris, keeping the vagina and reproductive tract clean and healthy. The amount of vaginal discharge can vary significantly from person to person. The color, consistency, and amount can also change from day to day, depending on the body’s level of a hormone, estrogen and where a person is in their menstrual cycle. High estrogen levels stimulate the cervix to produce secretions, and a small amount of mucus also may be discharged from the vagina. Estrogen levels are high during menstrual cycles a few days before the egg is released, in newborns for a week or two after birth because they absorb estrogen from their mother before birth, a few months before girls have their first menstrual period, during pregnancy and in women who take drugs that contain estrogen or that increase estrogen production (such as some fertility drugs).
How does a normal vaginal discharge look like?
A normal discharge has a subtle scent that is not foul smelling. It is usually milky white or thin and clear. The discharge also varies according to a woman’s menstrual cycle. It ranges from reddish brown just after a period, to sticky, cloudy, whitish and yellow a few days just before ovulation. During ovulation, it also becomes transparent, thin and slippery, like egg white consistency. It also becomes thicker during sexual excitement.
What causes abnormal vaginal discharge?
The vaginal discharge becomes abnormal when the normal balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina is upset. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, things that can disrupt this balance are
- Feminine hygiene sprays
- Certain soaps or bubble baths
How does abnormal vaginal discharge look like?
Generally, any discharge that deviates from the characteristics of the normal vaginal discharge is abnormal. It is also often associated with some other symptoms. A vaginal discharge is considered abnormal if it is:
- Heavier than usual
- Thicker than usual
- White and clumpy (like cottage cheese)
- Grayish, greenish, yellowish, or blood-tinged
- Foul- or fishy-smelling
- Accompanied by itching, burning, a rash, or soreness
When does vaginal discharge looks like pieces of toilet paper?
The commonest causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are infections. Most other conditions often predispose the vagina to being colonized by organisms, causing infections. These infections often produce characteristic vaginal discharge.
A vaginal discharge that looks like pieces of toilet paper is often due to a yeast infection.
What is a yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infections, also called vaginal candidiasis. They are caused by an organism called Candida albicans. Candida is a fungus. It commonly exists in small amounts in the vagina, mouth and gastrointestinal tract. When the fungus overgrows in the vagina, a yeast infection develops. Yeast infection is very common among women. As many as 75 percent of women will have at least one diagnosis of vaginal yeast infection during their lifetimes.
Situations that reduces the immunity or disrupts the natural balance of the vagina often predispose to yeast infections. These conditions include: Uncontrolled diabetes, use of antibiotics, the contraceptive sponge, the diaphragm, spermicides, pregnancy and hot and sweaty private areas for long periods of time.
This infection is not usually caught from a sexual partner and a non-sexually active person can also get infected.
What are the signs of a yeast infection?
A yeast infection can be very uncomfortable. The change in vaginal discharge is often classical and most times gives it away as the cause of the infection. These signs are.
- White, cottage cheese-like discharge, this discharge classically looks like a wet toilet paper
- Swelling and pain around the vulva
- Intense itching. The itching associated with yeast infections is very intense. It is usually one of the commonest symptoms of vaginal yeast infection. There may be scratch marks in the vagina and vulva.
- Small cuts or tiny cracks in the skin of the vulva because of friable skin in the area
- Painful sexual intercourse
What to do in case of a yeast infection?
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are similar to other conditions. It is advisable to visit the doctor who would examine and carry out some tests to confirm the diagnosis as soon as an abnormal vaginal discharge is noticed. It may be yeast or another cause of abnormal vaginal discharge. The doctor can then treat accordingly.
How is a vaginal yeast infection treated?
Vaginal candidiasis is usually treated with antifungal medicine. For most infections, the treatment is an antifungal medicine applied inside the vagina or a single dose taken by mouth. Other treatments may be needed for infections that are more severe, that don’t get better, or that keep coming back after getting better.
How to prevent yeast infections?
Yeast infection can be prevented by:
Wearing cotton underwear
Taking antibiotics as directed by the doctor and not self-medicating on them
Avoiding vaginal douching
Avoid washing the vagina with strong antiseptics or chemicals
Avoiding the use of feminine deodorants.
Not using deodorant (scented) tampons or pads.
Changing out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as possible.
Using water-based sexual lubricants.
Proper blood sugar control for people with diabetes.