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March 01, 2022 | Dr.Amna Zubair

Vaginal Odor: When To Be Concerned?

Every female has a natural odor released from their vagina. It is because your vagina contains different glands and resides in a variety of natural bacteria that produce a particular scent. Most of these bacteria are considered the ‘good bacteria’ because they are necessary for maintaining the health of your vagina. The odor released from these bacteria can vary from female to female. You can even smell multiple different odors from your vagina within a certain period. But how can you tell apart what a typical vaginal odor is and which one is abnormal? Read forward to learn the difference and when you need to be concerned about a medical issue. 

Normal Vaginal Odor

  • Tangy or fermented odor: This is a perfectly normal odor produced by the bacterial flora in your vagina. Good bacteria release certain products to maintain the pH levels of your vagina. The natural pH of the vagina is slightly acidic, which aids in preventing other bacterial or fungal infections. This results in a tangy or sour odor. This odor can vary from mild to moderate, depending on your hygiene and overall health.
  • Metallic odor: Some women complain of a copper-like or metallic smell from their vaginas. It is not a health concern because this is also normal. In most cases, it occurs during or right after menstruation. Your blood cells contain iron which may be the reason for the metallic smell. Bleeding during sexual intercourse (due to breakage of hymen tissue, vaginal dryness, etc.) can also lead to a metallic odor from your vagina. 
  • Bittersweet odor: This is another normal odor that may occur due to the changes in pH of your vagina. The bacterial flora keeps releasing multiple odor-producing materials. If you feel that your vagina has an earthy or bittersweet smell, it is not something to worry about. 
  • Bleach-like odor: A strong chemical odor from your vagina can be due to residual urine. Urine is also acidic and contains ammonia which gives off its pungent smell. Washing it off should reduce the smell. If the smell persists after washing, it may be a medical concern because it can signify a bacterial infection.
  • Odor similar to body sweat: Your vagina also contains sweat glands. These glands produce odorless sweat, especially during states of emotional distress. When the sweat gets mixed with the wide variety of bacteria flora, it can give off a pungent odor similar to how you smell after an intense workout. 

Don’t worry if you experience any odors coming from your vagina. The majority of them are completely normal, although they may vary in intensity. You need to be concerned if you experience other symptoms like rashes or itching along with a bad odor. 

Abnormal Vaginal Odor:

  • Fishy odor: A strong putrid or dead fish-like smell from your vagina can be a sign of a medical condition. This can occur either due to bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. Bacterial vaginosis is an infection that results in an itching or burning sensation in the vagina along with a thin, pungent discharge. Trichomoniasis is an STD and can also cause a smelly vagina accompanied by other symptoms. Medical attention is required for the treatment of both of these conditions. 
  • Dead meat-like odor: This one is very distinguishable, and you can easily tell that it is not a natural odor. More often than not, this kind of smell occurs due to a tampon that has been kept for too long or forgotten about. It is not something to be embarrassed about because it frequently occurs in females. Talk to your doctor if you experience this kind of persistent smell from your vagina.

When to See a Doctor?

If you experience a persistent putrid smell from your vagina that doesn’t go away even after washing it multiple times, it is better to discuss this issue with your doctor. Also, if you experience any other symptoms such as rash, itchiness, burning sensation, difficulty in urination, irregular bleeding during menses or sex, always mention it to your concerned doctor without any hesitation or embarrassment. These signs and symptoms could be due to an underlying infection or disease.

Fortunately, a great majority of such cases can be treated completely, and your symptoms will eventually disappear over time if you get medical help. Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis require antibiotic coverage for a certain duration of time. If you have a leftover tampon, your doctor can extract it without any invasive procedure. It is always helpful to talk to a medical expert if you experience any abnormal smell from your vagina.

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Dr.Amna Zubair

Dr.Amna Zubair is a general dentist (BDS, RDS) and medical content writer. She has also gained a diploma in Modern Applied Pscychology (MAP). She is a healthcare enthusiast and likes writing on topics from multiple fields of medicine, including dentistry, psychology, and general health.