If you're experiencing a change in your vaginal discharge, it can be challenging to determine whether or not you should be concerned. A fishy smell is often an indicator of a bacterial infection, but other smells can also be cause for alarm. In this edition of "Ask the Experts," we'll dive into what it means if "my discharge smells bad but not fishy."

Do I need to be alarmed if my discharge smells bad but not fishy?

There are a few things to consider when trying to answer this question. 

The first is what the smell actually smells like to you. If it's truly just a foul odor and not fishy, then that's less likely to be indicative of an infection. However, if there are accompanying discharge changes, itching, or burning, those could all be signs of an infection, so that would mean you need to contact your doctor.

Sometimes, a "bad" odor is simply your body's natural scent. And in many cases, there isn't anything wrong with it! However, there may be some ways to alleviate the smell naturally through a few modifications to your everyday life. This includes:

Eating A Clean Diet:

A healthy diet is key to keeping your body functioning optimally, and this includes the health of your vagina. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will help boost your immune system and keep bacteria in check.

Showering Regularly:

Frequent showering will help keep bacteria and sweat at bay, and it's especially important to make sure you're clean down there before and after sex to ensure you're keeping yourself clean.

Wearing Cotton Underwear

Make sure to choose the right type of underwear. For example, instead of wearing polyester, try instead to choose breathable fabrics such as cotton to help keep yourself comfortable and dry throughout the day.

Avoiding Fragrances Or Other Scented Products

Fragrances and other scented products can play a significant role in your vagina smelling bad. Due to the irritation it can cause to your body, you should choose soaps without fragrances and laundry detergent free of any harmful ingredients.'

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What Type Of Discharge Is Considered Normal?

The vaginal lining is meant to release a combination of blood and mucous in small amounts throughout the menstrual cycle. The color and consistency may vary, but the amount should be slight enough that you can wear a panty liner and not need to change it multiple times during the day.

Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or milky white and looks somewhat similar to fat-free milk. It can be thin or thick, but it should not have any odor or change in color (such as green discharge). Green discharge can be indicative of an STD, so it's essential to contact your doctor if your discharge looks different than it usually does.

What Can Cause Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?

Abnormal vaginal discharge is anything that doesn't fall under the normal category. This could be blood, mucous, or pus. Sometimes, the discharge may have a foul odor or cause vaginal itching and redness.

Generally speaking, there are three leading causes of abnormal vaginal discharge:


The majority of cases of abnormal vaginal discharge are caused by an infection. Bacteria, yeast, and other fungi can all be responsible for this symptom, and each requires a different treatment. For example, yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, while bacterial infections may require antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.

Medical Condition

Any number of medical conditions may cause a change in vaginal discharge. These include endometriosis, cervical cancer, previous surgery, STDs, hormone imbalances, and more. You should contact your doctor if you notice a change in vaginal discharge that doesn't resolve within a few days to a week after treatment.


Some women experience abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting called implantation bleeding in the first trimester of pregnancy. This is usually a sign of impending miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, but it will resolve on its own after the embryo implants in the uterus.

How Can I Treat Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?

Treating abnormal vaginal discharge varies based on the specific cause. If you are experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding, your doctor may recommend changing your birth control method or performing some tests. Antibiotics may be necessary if you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection. If the problem is caused by yeast, an over-the-counter cream will most likely clear it up quickly.

Avoid douching unless your doctor recommends it. Douching can reduce the healthy bacteria in your vagina and cause more harmful bacteria to grow. This can make it harder to identify and treat an infection and also increases your risk for pelvic inflammatory disease.

Do I Need To See My Doctor About My Vaginal Discharge?

If you are unsure about your normal vaginal discharge, contact your doctor. Your doctor is best equipped to examine your vagina and determine if the discharge is normal or abnormal. You should also see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • If the discharge is accompanied by pain, fever, itching, redness, or burning.
  • Any change in your vaginal discharge that persists for more than a few days.
  • A sudden increase in the amount of vaginal discharge (especially if it's associated with abdominal discomfort)
  • An unpleasant smell coming from your vagina
  • If you are sexually active, your doctor must perform a pelvic exam to rule out STD symptoms. Most infections that cause abnormal vaginal discharge can also be spread through sex.


When you're wondering why my discharge smells bad but not fishy, the answer is that it may be due to an infection caused by yeast, bacteria, fungi, or a combination of hygiene issues. Be sure to see your doctor if something doesn't feel right so that you can get the proper treatment.

If you're experiencing any of the other symptoms mentioned in this article, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Abnormal vaginal discharge is always worth getting checked out!

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.