Many women wonder if having a smell “down there” is normal, and some women even wonder if having a scent is indicative of health issues. The truth is that it’s perfectly normal to have a particular odor, but it is important to know the difference between a healthy feminine odor and a smell that should alert you to talk to your doctor. It’s even common for feminine odors to change throughout the day, change after intense activity, such as exercise, change during the menstrual cycle, or change due to diet or hygiene products. However, there are a few instances where smell can indicate something more serious.

While many odors should not incite a need to alarm, if a smell is accompanied by a change in discharge then you should consult with your OB/GYN. Many times, these conditions have additional symptoms such as itching, swelling, or pain, in which it is best to consult a doctor who can provide relief to those symptoms. If you notice a strong fishy odor, this could be an instance of Bacterial Vaginosis, particularly if the smell is accompanied by a thin grey discharge. BV is caused when there is an imbalance of the bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. BV is a very common condition. Many cases of BV resolve on their own, but a course of antibiotics is recommended to restore the normal balance of vaginal bacteria and treat any other symptoms like pelvic pain or itching. If white or yellow discharge becomes chunky and has a pasty smell, it may be a yeast infection that requires a doctor’s visit. However, over-the-counter antifungal treatments are also available to treat yeast infections. Yellow or green discharge can be indicative of an STI infection. For example, trichomoniasis has a characteristic green discharge, and chlamydia and gonorrhea also produce discharges often accompanied by a smell.

A few other feminine odors may not be a direct result of infection, but they do garner some attention. Some women notice a strong smell of ammonia, and while this is often a byproduct of urination, it can also be a sign of dehydration, and persistent smell can be a sign of menopause. Some women report a rotten smell, and most often this is a result of leaving a tampon inserted for too long. This can be especially dangerous as it can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Many women want to take issues into their own hands and use over-the-counter feminine cleaning products, like douches. While douching may initially make you feel cleaner, it can actually cause more harm than good. Douches change the pH of the vagina, upsetting the normal balance of bacteria and other microbes, and this can cause infections or bacteria imbalances. Furthermore, some douche formulas can even cause an allergic reaction. It is important to remember that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and excess douching is not necessary. If you have concerns regarding any changes in your feminine odor or color, you should consult your doctor who can work with you to make sure you are in optimal health.