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Vaginal odor

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 25, 2022.

Definition

Vaginal odor is any odor that comes from the vagina. The vagina usually has only a mild odor or sometimes no odor at all. A "fishy" smell or other strong vaginal odor might mean there's a problem.

Conditions that cause a strong vaginal odor might also cause other vaginal symptoms such as itching, burning, irritation or discharge.

If you have vaginal odor but have no other vaginal symptoms, it's unlikely that the odor is cause for concern. You may be tempted to douche or use a vaginal deodorant to decrease vaginal odor. But these products may actually make odor worse and cause irritation and other vaginal symptoms.

Causes

Vaginal odor can change from day to day during the menstrual cycle. An odor might be especially noticeable right after having sex. Sweating also can cause a vaginal odor.

Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of bacteria typically present in the vagina. It's a common vaginal condition that can cause vaginal odor. Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection, also can lead to vaginal odor. A yeast infection usually doesn't cause vaginal odor.

Possible causes of unusual vaginal odor include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Poor hygiene
  • A forgotten tampon
  • Trichomoniasis

Less commonly, unusual vaginal odor may result from:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Rectovaginal fistula (an opening between the rectum and vagina that allows gas or stool to leak into the vagina)
  • Vaginal cancer

When to see a doctor

If you're concerned about an unusual vaginal odor or an odor that doesn't go away, see your health care provider. Your provider may perform a vaginal exam, especially if you also have itching, burning, irritation, discharge or other symptoms.

Self-care tips for vaginal odor include:

  • Wash outside your vagina during regular baths or showers. Use a small amount of mild, unscented soap and lots of water.
  • Avoid douching. All healthy vaginas contain bacteria and yeast. The typical acidity of the vagina keeps bacteria and yeast in check. Douching can upset this delicate balance.

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