White discharge, also called Leukorrhea, is a natural discharge of the vagina. Usually white and with a viscous texture, it occurs throughout a woman's hormonal life, from a few years before menstruation through to menopause. Having discharge is a normal part of a woman’s life cycle and it means that her genitals are working properly. It provides permanent hydration and vaginal lubrication since it is composed of cervical mucus, which is secreted and usually increases in amount when you are near ovulation or are ovulating. However, there are some rare instances when it can also be a sign of a genital infection. Knowing its types can help you understand your body better.
Types of White Discharge:
If you noticed vaginal discharge and you are confused if it is normal or not, then it is important to know the different types of white discharge.
The following are the three major types:
Thick White Discharge:
This is the most common type of vaginal discharge and normally occurs at the beginning or end of the menstrual cycle. This kind of thick discharge is perfectly normal.
If you are pregnant then thick discharge usually and commonly occurs during the early stages and the 3rd trimester.
Milky White Discharge:
It occurs during ovulation or during the early stages of pregnancy. It is either odourless or has a very mild odour.
Thick and Clumpy White Discharge with Odor:
Thick and clumpy discharge, especially if coupled with strong odours, may indicate signs of vaginal infection. Consult your doctor to make sure it’s nothing serious.
What are the Reasons for White Discharge?
Cleanses and protects you from bacteria:
The vagina is made up of cells that constantly renew themselves, like the skin. Whereas the cervical mucus evacuates not only the dead cells but also the germs that could have developed in the vagina.
White discharge is a natural lubricant. It helps keep the female reproductive system functioning because being kept moisturized prevents different diseases and infections.
What is Abnormal White Discharge?
Women produce on average 1 to 4 ml of vaginal discharge every 24 hours. Of course, the flow can vary for different women and for different factors, such as ovulation or use of contraception.
In some cases, the white discharge may be a sign of vaginal infection. Most often, it is due to a commonly found fungus, Candida Albicans. This is known as candidiasis or vaginal thrush. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 women have had or will have vaginal thrush in their lifetime. Even if it is not serious, it causes some trouble and can be annoying to deal with. That is why it is important to treat it quickly.
As soon as you notice a change in the smell, texture or colour of your discharge, it is important to consult your gynaecologist. This is particularly the case if your discharge:
- Gives off a strong and/or unpleasant smell
- Suddenly becomes darker or greenish
- Has a grainy appearance or feel
- Thicker and more sticky than usual
Other signs should also alert you. If your discharge is accompanied by itching, a burning sensation, pain in the lower abdomen, discomfort during sex or urination, do not wait to make an appointment with your doctor.
What are the Causes of Abnormal White Discharge?
Many factors can increase the risk of having abnormal discharge such as:
- Taking certain medications
- Hormonal changes (puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, oral contraceptives, hormonal IUD etc.)
- Fatigue and weakening of the immune system
- Excessive hygiene (douches, irritating soaps)
- Intensive sports activities causing excess perspiration
- Swimming in chlorinated pools
- Very tight and wet clothes
- Blood sugar levels (only in women with a disrupted glucose test)
7 Tips to Manage White Discharge:
- Use of panty liners: Pantyliners are designed to help you manage discharge. Using them daily helps protect panties and makes you feel clean and fresh down there every day.
- Intimate Wash: Showering daily using a mild intimate wash that is pH balanced is vital to keep your intimate area clean.
- Toilet: After using the toilet, always wipe. This can help prevent bacteria from your rectal area infecting your vagina.
- Shower: Avoid hot tubs. Wash daily with intimate wash and pat your genital area dry.
- Underwear: Wear cotton underwear during the day and change your underwear 2-3 times a day. Cotton allows your genital area to "breathe". Do not wear underwear at night.
- Tight pants: Avoid wearing tight pants, tights, swimsuits for long periods. Change your laundry or fabric softener if you think it could irritate your genital area.
- Some contraceptives: Latex found in condoms, diaphragms and sperm gels that are used for birth control can be irritating to some women. If you think any of these things are a problem for you, talk to your doctor about alternative contraceptives.
What is the Treatment for White Discharge?
Your doctor or gynaecologist may prescribe antifungal medications. These medications can be taken in several forms: as tablets, orally, or in the form of cream. The doctor may also prescribe a local cream for inflammation of the vulva.
It is imperative to continue the treatment until the end of the prescribed period, even if the symptoms disappear quickly, to avoid recurrence.
Having 1-2 infections a year is normal. However, from 4+ infections per year, vaginal thrush can be considered recurrent. Then you may have to start a background treatment that will be prescribed by your gynaecologist