Hesperian Health Guides

Discharge from the vagina

In this chapter:

a blind woman smelling vaginal discharge on her fingers.
A change in the smell or color of your discharge can mean you have an infection.

It is normal to have a small amount of wetness or discharge in the vagina. This is the natural way the vagina cleans and protects itself. A change in the amount, color, or smell of the discharge from your vagina sometimes means you have an infection, but it can be difficult to tell from your discharge what kind of infection you have.

Vaginal yeast infections (yeast, white discharge, white period, candida)

Yeast is a common infection caused by a fungus. It usually happens in the genitals or on the skin where it stays hot and damp (from leaking urine or sweat) for a long time. Yeast is not usually sexually transmitted.

Any woman can get a yeast infection in the vagina, especially if she sits for long periods of time as do women who ride wheelchairs. Yeast infections also happen more to women who have diabetes or are taking antibiotics. It is best for a pregnant woman to be treated before the birth, or the baby can get a yeast infection called thrush.

Skin infection

Yeast infections are not always in the vagina. Women can also get yeast infections of the skin, especially between skin folds around the groin, down the insides of the thighs, or where skin touches on skin around a roll of fat or under the breasts.

A yeast infection of the skin can become an open sore. If it gets dirty with stool or urine, it can start other serious infections and pass to other areas of the body. For women with limited movement who sit for many hours at a time, this can be especially dangerous if it passes to the bones at the very bottom of the spine.

Signs of yeast infection:

  • you feel very itchy inside or outside your vagina
  • bright red skin outside and inside your vagina, in skin folds, or down the inside of your thighs, that sometimes bleeds
  • a burning feeling when you pass urine
  • white, lumpy discharge, like milk curd or yogurt
  • a smell like mold or baking bread

Yeast can often be cured using natural remedies. One natural treatment is to mix 3 tablespoons of vinegar with 1 liter (1quart) of boiled and cooled water. Soak a piece of clean cotton in the mixture and insert it into the vagina every night for 3 nights. Remove the cotton each morning.

Medicines for yeast infection
Soak a clean piece of cotton in gentian violet 1%. Insert the cotton into the vagina, every night for 3 nights. Remove the cotton each morning. Or use any of the following medicines. Creams made of the medicines below can also be used on any red skin outside the vagina or on the buttocks or legs. Rub the cream in gently to the affected areas.
Medicine How much to take When and how to take
miconazole put one 200 mg insert high in the vagina, each night for 3 nights
nystatin put one 100,000 Units insert high in the vagina, each night for 14 nights
clotrimazole put two 100 mg inserts in the vagina, each night for 3 nights
If it is available, you can also use an antifungal powder such as nystatin. Apply the powders lightly to the affected areas.

Prevention of yeast infection

Yeast grows best in areas that are warm and moist. The best way to prevent yeast infections is to keep your vagina, the skin around it, your buttocks, and the skin under your breasts, clean and dry. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you leak urine, change your underclothes as often as you can. You can use clean cloths or pads (like those used for monthly bleeding) and change them often during the day.
a wheelchair user lying on a floor mat with her legs on a box.
  • If you sit most of the time, try to change your position at least once every hour—more often if you can. Also, try to get out of your chair and lie down with your legs open for 15 minutes at least 2 times a day. This will also help prevent pressure sores.
  • If you have no feeling in your lower body, use a mirror to look and see if there is any unusual redness in or around your vagina. If you cannot do this yourself, ask someone you trust to do it for you, especially if you notice an unusual smell from your genitals.
  • Wear clean, dry underclothes made of cotton (because it absorbs wetness) and which fit loosely to let air in around your genitals and keep them dry.
  • When you lie down to sleep, do not wear any underwear. This will help your genitals to stay dry.
  • During your monthly bleeding, change the cloth or pad you use to catch the blood several times a day. If they are to be used again, wash them well with soap and water and let them dry completely in the sun.
  • Use a tampon (made from cotton, cloth or a sponge) inside your vagina, and be sure to change it at least 3 times a day. Leaving one in for more than a day may cause a serious infection (for more information, see “Monthly bleeding”).

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is another infection that causes a discharge from the vagina. It is not sexually transmitted. If you are pregnant, it can cause your baby to be born too soon.


  • more discharge than usual
  • a fishy smell, especially after sexual intercourse
  • mild itching


Medicines for discharge: to treat bacterial vaginosis
Medicine How much to take When and how to take
metronidazole 400 to 500 mg by mouth, 2 times a day for 7 days
(avoid metronidazole in
the first 3 months of pregnancy)
2 grams (2000 mg) by mouth, in a single dose
clindamycin 300 mg by mouth, 2 times a day for 7 days
clindamycin 5 grams of 2% cream
(2000 mg)
inside the vagina at bedtime for 7 days
Your partner should also be treated with 2 grams of metronidazole by mouth, one time only.
IMPORTANT! Do not drink alcohol during the time you are taking metronidazole.
IMPORTANT! Discharge in the vagina can be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
This page was updated:30 Nov 2023