What You Need to Know About Vaginal Discharge, Wetness, and Odor

Vulvavaginal discharge, wetness & odor are very common problems among all women of all ages. What women don't realize is that the vulvovaginal area has the greatest concentration of sweat glands than any other part in your body. In addition to that, some of these sweat glands are "specialized" glands so when the fluid of the gland is released, a chemical is released with it that has an odor. Very similar to the sweat glands we have under our armpits or what we call the axilla. Anything that will promote you to perspire, you will also perspire in the vulva area. You can appreciate that a very active person or someone that's just worked out or someone that's wearing confining, constricting clothing, or if the weather is warm, that you will perspire and you will perspire there. And that attributes to a great deal of wetness that women experience and sense.

In addition to wetness just from perspiration you also have discharge that comes from the vagina. There is normal physiologic discharge that waxes and wanes during the menstrual cycle under hormonal influence. This usually described as clear, it can be yellow or straw color, it is sometimes thinner but more of it in the middle of your cycle when you're the most fertile, and it can be thicker and denser at the end of the cycle. Most women have some degree of vaginal discharge and they get to know what's normal to them.

Normal vaginal discharge, perspiration, and resident bacteria — these all combine to create odor. So every woman has some scent or odor that's germane to her body. It's important that women are in tuned with it because a change in that can be a red flag of a more serious condition. A perfect example of that is a patient I saw not too long ago, who said, "Dr. Nardone — I've had this discharge and it's a little different. I just got over my period a week ago but it just doesn't seem right and there's a little blood tinge to it and my odor's not the same." I said, "Well let's check you out." And sure enough, when I examined her she had a retained tampon in her vagina and this was for a week now and she didn't even know it. And if that had not been evaluated and picked up she could have had more serious complications. It is important that women distinguish this wetness from vulvavaginal wetness versus urinary incontinence or the wetness coming from urinary leakage or the bladder because that is a different diagnosis that needs to be addressed.