Vagina has an odor typically due to the presence of a particular type of bacteria that are useful to the human body. These bacteria are considered as the “good” bacteria since their existence, prevents the infections occurring due to an increase in the number of other bacteria considered bad for the body and health. The good ‘bacteria’ keep the ‘bad’ in check and therefore prevents them from increasing in number but if due to certain reasons the number of harmful bacteria increases, this leads to infections and eventually to a bad vaginal odor.
The other reason for the presence of vaginal odor is the normal secretions that are produced by the female body. The odor that occurs due to secretion tends to change in color, consistency, andodor according to the changes in the reproductive systems. During the regular days, women describe this smell as musky, which changes to slightly metallic during the periods and then back to the original odor. If the odor changes to something that is not normal then you need to consult a physician because this is most likely due to infections, which might get complicated if left untreated.
Causes of Vaginal Odor
The most common causes of vaginal odor are listed below:
- Normal vaginal secretions; usually vagina produces secretions as a form of lubrication and to cleanse the area, as it occurs at other places in the human body such as the airways in the lungs. It is musky in the smell, which changes according to the reproductive cycle in a woman’sbody.
- In association with periods; vaginal odor before periods increases in intensity due to an increase in the vaginal secretions as a result of increase in the size and the number of glands. During the periods, due to the addition of blood content, the odor changes from musky to slightly more metallic. Vaginal odor after periods returns to musky as the glands return to their normal size and number.
- Vaginal odor after intercourse; some women might notice the smell after sexual intercourse. This smell is most probably due to the change in the PH after the mixing of vaginal secretions and the semen and is normal. It can also occur as an effect of flavored condoms or use of lubrication.
- Perspiration and hygiene; sometimes, due to the use of very tight fitted clothes such as tight pants and underwear or nylon clothes which helps in accumulation of heat and sweat under the clothes, adding to the smell already present.
- Menstruation products; during periods, the use of menstrual products such as pads tend to augment the metallic smell associated with the vaginal discharge during the periods, therefore increasing the smell.
- Diet; Due to the addition of very sweet food products into the diet, an increase in the yeast occurs, changing the odor of the vagina. Other foods have also been linked with altering the odor of vagina due to a change in the PH.
- Dehydration; Due to dehydration, the concentration of salt in the sweat increases, leading to more intense smell. With the addition of tight clothes, this smell increases the growth of bacteria causing bad vaginal odor.
- Bacterial Infections; Infections are the most common cause of abnormal vaginal odors. The most common bacterial infection among women age 14 to 60 years leading to the development of afoul-smelling vaginal odor is Bacterial Vaginosis. It is caused by a decrease in the normal bacteria in the vagina and an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria. It produces a ‘fishy’ odor that may be associated with itching and a burning sensation.
- Yeast Overgrowth; yeast cells are a normal part of the vagina, and due to disturbances of PH in the vagina, yeast cells multiply and lead to a condition known as candidacies. This is caused by the yeast Candida Albicans. It produces a strong beer like sweet smell. The vaginal odor and discharge are the main symptoms. The discharge is gray-white colored and lumpy in consistency, resembling cottage cheese. The associated symptoms include severe itching, irritation, burning and swelling of the area.
- Scented feminine products and douches; Strong smelling feminine products and underwear can also cause a change in the natural odor of the vagina. The Douches that claim to clean the vaginal area disrupt the natural PH and bacteria of the vagina, thus allowing the growth of the other harmful bacteria.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs); sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas are an important cause of bad vaginal odor and can vary in intensity depending on the type of the infection The associated symptoms include pain, vaginal discharge, and intermittent spotting.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID); PID is an infection of the internal reproductive organs that occurs as a result of infections ascending from the vagina. The sign and symptoms of PID include fouls smelling vaginal odor and discharge along with severe pelvic pain. If left untreated it can result in life-threatening complications such as peritonitis. Other complications include ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
- Cervical Cancer; sometimes a foul-smelling vaginal odor is persistently present, along with severe pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding. All these signs can point towards cervical cancer and therefore needs to be considered
Prevention of Vaginal Odor
- The proper hygiene of vagina is essential to prevent infections and therefore limiting the causes of vaginal odor. The vagina should be cleaned with warm water from the outside with non-scented natural soaps. No products should be used Douches should be avoided, as they change the PH of the vagina and give rise to the infections.
- Eat a healthy diet with an appropriate amount carbohydrates, proteins and fat content by eating vegetables, fruits, meat, and grains. It will help in fighting off infections.
- Avoid wearing tight nylon underwear and clothes as they increase the body temperature giving rise to sweat, instead wear breathable cotton underwear and loose
- The feminine products should frequently be replacedto decrease the odor associated with periods and always checked to make sure no tampons are left forgotten in the vagina to give rise to the infections.
- Always use condoms to avoid mixing of the semen and the vaginal fluids and to prevent the chances of getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
- Drink lots of water to avoid getting dehydrated to prevent the sweat to concentrate which also increase the odor associated with perspiration and other bodily fluids.
- Try using the counter PH balance products. They are maintaining the acidic PH of the vagina and prevent bacterial overgrowth. Try consulting your physician before using one or if it did not suit you.
- Wash your vagina before and after every intercourse to avoid retention of fluids that might provide a breeding ground for the bacteria.
- Use of natural probiotic products which encourage the growth of healthy bacteria such as yogurt and Kampuchea Tea should be added to the diet.
Vaginal Odor Treatment
If the vaginal odor is due to infections, then consulting a physician is of utmost importance. Otherwise, it might lead to difficulties such as severe septic shock, infertility, and ectopic pregnancies. If the vaginal odor is associated with other symptoms such as severe itching, burning sensation while urinating, vaginal discharge or irregular bleeding.
To eliminate the bacterial infections you need to start an antibiotic course according to the instruction of your physician. Always complete the antibiotic course or the infection will reoccur will the bacteria stronger than before as they will develop immunity to the previously used antibiotics. For yeast infections, oral and vaginal antifungal drugs are used. They are taken for ten to fifteen days, with added antibiotics if a superimposed bacterial infection is present.
Vaginal Odor and Natural Remedies
Natural vaginal odor, without any added infection or other symptoms, can be reduced by using natural remedies. They include;
- Add half a cup of apple cider toyour bath and soak in it for 25 to 30 minutes to naturally reduce the vaginal odor.
- Baking Soda, a natural deodorizer, can help in dissipating the vaginal odor. You can add a half cup of the baking soda powder to your bath and soak in it for 15 to 20 minutes.
- White vinegar can also help in reducing the odor of the vagina. Add half a cup of vinegar to warm bathwater a few times a week to reduce the vaginal odor.
- Adding garlic to the diet can not only reduce the vaginal odor, but it also has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that protect against bacterial and fungal infections.
- Vitamin C, which is famous for boosting the immune system help to fight against bacterial and fungal infections which is why citrus fruit should be added to the diet.
Mild vaginal odor and the variations that occur in response to the menstrual cycle is perfectly normal but if other symptoms such as pain, burning sensation, and bleeding or spotting occur then it is time to consult a qualified physician.