The vagina secretes many different kinds of fluids through the day and most times, this is completely normal. However, if you notice your vaginal fluids smelling particularly strange all of a sudden, it might be a symptom of a deeper health problem. Many times, women experience abnormal secretions because of a condition known as bacterial vaginosis. If this term sounds completely alien to you, here’s a breakdown of exactly what it is and which symptoms to watch out for.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Your vagina is home to millions of bacteria. If this grosses you out, it shouldn’t. A lot of this bacteria is actually good for you and helps keep your vagina healthy. Some vaginal bacteria aren’t as well-intentioned, but it shouldn’t worry you. As long as you have a higher proportion of good bacteria, the bad kind will be kept in check. Sometimes due to certain factors, bad bacteria multiplies rapidly and outnumbers the good bacteria. This results in what we call ‘bacterial vaginosis’.
For a long time, bacterial vaginosis was thought to result from the unchecked growth of just one type of harmful bacteria, Gardnerella. However vaginal swabs today reveal that it’s actually an overpopulation of many different kinds of bad bacteria. Apart from Gardnerella, bacteria like Lactobacillus, Peptostreptococcus and Fusobacterium grow and multiply. Because the number of good bacteria are significantly reduced, they cannot stop harmful bacteria from wreaking havoc in your vagina.
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
Researchers haven’t been able to provide a conclusive answer for what causes bacterial vaginosis. The balance of good and bad bacteria in our vagina is delicate, but they aren’t sure exactly what causes it to be disrupted. One of the most cited reasons for bacterial vaginosis is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics wipe out bacterial colonies from our bodies, both the good and the bad ones. This can cause a decrease in good vaginal bacteria, giving harmful bacteria the chance to grow and multiply.
If you’re a big fan of douching, this might also be a reason why your vaginal flora is out of balance. Douching has no scientific basis and is completely unnecessary. Instead of cleaning your vagina, it disrupts its pH balance which is crucial for a healthy balance between good and bad vaginal bacteria. Scented douches are even worse because they contain compounds that actually encourage bad bacteria to multiply.
Sex however, cannot result in bacterial vaginosis. Between a man and a woman, bacterial vaginosis cannot be transmitted sexually. However, between two women, this might not be true. If one woman does have bacterial vaginosis, her female sex partner might be at a risk for also contracting it.
What Are The Symptoms?
1. Change In Vaginal Odor
One of the most common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis is a very strong smelling discharge being excreted from the vagina. This smell is often described as ‘pungent’ and ‘fishy’. Definitely not what you want your lady-parts smelling like.
2. Change In Consistency Of Secretions
Another symptom is a change in the consistency of vaginal discharge. Healthy vaginal discharge is usually slightly viscous and a milky-white color. Women with bacterial vaginosis might notice that their discharge is much more watery and grayish.
3. Abnormal Pain
In some cases, the overpopulation of bad bacteria might make for painful intercourse. This could be because the surrounding tissue in your vagina are inflamed or sore because of the infection. This can also result in pain or a burning sensation when you pee.
What Is The Course Of Treatment?
The good news is that in most cases, bacterial vaginosis is fairly common and rarely harmful. The exception to this is in the case of pregnant women. Sometimes, bacterial vaginosis can result in complications during childbirth, so it’s a lot more dangerous. However even if you aren’t pregnant, you do need to visit a gynecologist immediately if you notice abnormal secretions and odor.
Once you go in for a check-up your gynec will make you undergo some routine tests to ensure that it isn’t a more serious STD or STI. The most common course of treatment is oral or topical antibiotics. Bacterial vaginosis usually clears up quickly after treatment, with no lasting side-effects. So if your vagina does smell fishy, don’t panic. It’s not permanent.