If you notice a fishy odor from your vagina or vaginal discharge, it may be caused by sweating, a bacterial infection, or even your genetics. The most common is cause is vaginitis, an infection or inflammation of the vagina.
The odor of your vagina varies throughout your menstrual cycle. If you are concerned about your vaginal odor, or experiencing any unusual discharge, burning, itching, or redness, you should see your OB-GYN. They can perform an exam and determine if you need antibiotics or other prescription medication.
Other symptoms you may have
You may notice a fishy odor when you use the restroom or after you have sex. You may also notice the odor changes to a fishy smell after you sweat. If you have additional symptoms like unusual discharge or itching, burning, or redness, see your doctor.
Clear or slightly cloudy vaginal discharge is normal and healthy. But if you experience discharge that’s itchy or irritating, it may be a symptom of an infection. See your doctor if your discharge is grayish white, greenish yellow, or white and resembles cottage cheese in consistency.
Fishy smelling urine
Fishy odor from your urine can be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI). The bacteria from the infection can contaminate the urine and cause a distinct fishy smell. Other symptoms may include urine that is cloudy, burning sensation when urinating, or other mild pain when you pee.
Certain foods and conditions can also change the smell of your urine. See your doctor if you are concerned.
Fishy odor after sex
A fishy odor you notice after having sex is usually a symptom of vaginitis. Having sex can worsen the infection. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of vaginitis, see your doctor and avoid penile-vaginal intercourse until your symptoms improve.
Itching, burning, or irritation
You may notice itching, burning, or irritation in addition to the fishy odor. You may also experience mild pain or pain during sex or when you urinate. Let your doctor know if you experience any of these symptoms.
Causes for a fishy smell
Vaginitis is inflammation or an infection of the vagina. It is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, but can also be caused by a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) called trichomoniasis. A fishy odor is a common symptom.
Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance or overgrowth of bacterium in the vagina. Having penile-vaginal intercourse with a new partner is usually the cause.
Women who aren’t sexually active can also get bacterial vaginosis, though. Douching or other hormonal changes, such as pregnancy and menopause can result in bacterial vaginosis.
Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a parasite spread through sexual contact that can cause a foul or fishy smelling odor.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI may cause foul or strong-smelling urine. You may also experience burning, itching, or pain.
Period blood or lost or forgotten tampons
Your menstrual cycle may cause different odors. A stronger or fishy odor may be caused by an infection or from a forgotten tampon. Let your doctor know if you are concerned.
Vaginal sweating due to exercise, heat, or other reasons is normal and can occasionally have an odor. If you notice a foul odor when you sweat, let your doctor know.
How is the cause of a fishy smell diagnosed?
If you are experiencing symptoms of vaginitis or are concerned about your vaginal odor, see your OB-GYN. They will likely perform a pelvic exam where they’ll look inside your vagina for inflammation or abnormal discharge.
They also may take a sample of the discharge for lab testing. They can also perform a pH test. This tests the vaginal discharge for an elevated pH.
An elevated pH may mean you have a bacterial infection. But your doctor will need to assess your other symptoms, plus review your medical and sexual history to confirm the diagnosis.
when to see your doctorSchedule an appointment with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
itching burning pain during urination redness or irritation pain after sex unusual discharge that’s grey, white, or yellow-green in color discharge that has a foul odor
Medical treatment that can help
Treatment to stop or prevent that fishy smell will depend on what is causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam and send samples to a lab, if needed. If you test positive for a bacterial infection, your doctor will give you a prescription for antibiotics.
A commonly prescribed antibiotic for vaginitis is metronidazole (Flagyl) tablets or a cream or gel such as clindamycin (Cleocin) that you apply to your vagina. Follow all your doctor’s instructions for taking these medications.
You can use an over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal cream to treat a yeast infection. Options include miconazole (Monistat 1) or tioconazole (Vagistat-1). Your doctor may also prescribe you an antifungal medication.
Although you may be able to treat a yeast infection yourself with OTC remedies, see your doctor if this is the first time you’ve had these symptoms, your symptoms worsen, or these treatments aren’t working.
A UTI is usually treated with antibiotics and home remedies. Follow your doctor’s instructions exactly for taking antibiotics, as you need to complete the entire course of treatment for them to be effective.
You’ll also need to drink plenty of water as your body recovers and avoid coffee and soft drinks until your infection is cleared up. They can irritate your bladder as you recover.
Your doctor or OB-GYN can easily remove a stuck tampon. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. It can be dangerous for your health if they aren’t removed.
Things you can do at home
There are several things you can try at home that might help resolve that annoying smell. However, if you’re concerned or feel unwell, go see your doctor.
Avoid using any douching product or anything with dyes or a strong fragrance. Instead, when you shower or take a bath, use just a gentle soap and water to clean the area. (Avoid harsh soaps, putting anything in your vagina, or using any products with a scent.) When you are done, gently pat dry.
Some foods may cause a fishy or other vaginal odor. They include asparagus, broccoli, certain spices like garlic, onions, and some types of fish. If you are concerned, you can avoid these foods. But they are all considered healthy in moderation, so you don’t need to cut them out of your diet completely.
A probiotic may be helpful for restoring bacterial balance in your gut and vagina. If you’re interested in trying a probiotic, look for one at your local pharmacy or ask your doctor which probiotic would be most beneficial for you.
Change your routine
Excessive sweating may be the cause of your fishy odor. If you are concerned about sweating, talk to your doctor. Make sure you are cleaning your vulva well after working out using a gentle soap and water, and patting dry after.
Things to avoid to prevent that smell
Some products or activities may worsen an infection, create discharge, or cause a fishy smell. Avoiding the following may help stop or prevent the smell:
- harsh soaps
- tight underwear
- non-latex condoms
Your vaginal smell can vary throughout your monthly cycle. Sometimes sweat or your period can cause a fishy smell isn’t cause for alarm. Avoid douching and wash your vulva with soap and water and pat dry.
If you have other symptoms like itching, redness, or burning, or the smell doesn’t go away after a few days, see your doctor. They can prescribe medication or antibiotics, if needed.