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Vaginal Odors and What They Mean

Our vaginas smell – all the time. We rarely notice, of course, because when the vagina has a balanced pH level the odor remains largely consistent and indiscernible. But it doesn’t take much to upset that pH: sex with a partner wearing a condom, as well as semen, tampons, menstruation, the use of vibrators and even eating certain foods with strong flavors and odors can all change the pH and bring about new and different smells.

Some of the most common odors are:

Fishy smell

What it might mean: A fishy smell can be a sign of either bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection, or trichomoniasis, a common and easily treated STI. With both, you might also notice a white or gray discharge.

Should you see a doctor? Yes. Both of these infections are treated with antibiotics.

Metallic smell

_What it might mean:_You have recently had your period or you have recently had sex where semen entered your vagina. Both of these can change the pH balance in your vagina and cause a metallic smell.

Should you see a doctor: It probably isn’t necessary, however, each person should use their discretion.

Yeast smell

What it might mean: You might have a yeast infection. Most of the time there is no odor associated with yeast infections. However, you might notice a faint yeast/bread smell. With yeast infections, there are usually other symptoms, such as itchiness and a thick white discharge.

Should you see a doctor: There are treatments for yeast infections available without a prescription. But if you haven’t had a yeast infection before or you aren’t sure if this is a yeast infection, it is a good idea to see your doctor before self-treating.

Musk smell

What it might mean: You have been sweating, wearing synthetic underpants or wearing jeans or underpants that are too tight. These types of clothing don’t allow your skin to breath and can cause a musk smell.

Should you see a doctor: Probably not. The best way to clear up a musky smell is to use a mild soap to wash your vaginal area, switch to all-cotton underwear or wear pants that aren’t so tight (sometimes, at least). If the smell doesn’t go away or worsens, you might want to check with your doctor.

Rotting smell

What it might mean: A rotting smell means there is something wrong. One common cause is that there is a foreign object (such as a tampon) stuck in your vagina.

_Should you see a doctor:_Yes If you notice a rotting smell, you should see your doctor immediately.

Food smells

What it might mean: Foods with strong odors, such as garlic, onions, asparagus, curry and even fruits such as pineapple can produce a vaginal odor. Foods such as onion or garlic might give off an odor similar to the food but fruits might give off a vaguely sweet smell. The smell often doesn’t occur until several days after you ate the food. Foods such as onion or garlic might give off an odor similar to the food but fruits might give off a vaguely sweet smell.

Should you see a doctor: It probably isn’t necessary, however, each person should use their discretion.

Vaginal smells often change throughout the month based on hormonal fluctuations. This is normal and shouldn’t raise any concerns. If you do see a doctor for vaginal smells, be sure to let him or her know if you are taking any medications or supplements, as some of these can also cause changes in vaginal odor.

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