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Smell Something Fishy? 9 Causes of Vaginal Odor and What You Can Do About It

If you are experiencing an unpleasant smell down there, there could be many different reasons and treatment options for you. We've collected nine different types of vaginal fishy odor and some common treatment options available. Learn them in the article.

fishy vaginal odor

What causes fishy vaginal odor?

The first question you may have is what causes a fishy odor? There are around nine most common causes of vaginal fishy odor, each with their own unique symptoms and treatment options. In some cases, you may be able to solve the problem yourself with home remedies and in other cases, you may need medical treatment.

Here are nine possible causes of having a fishy odor in your vagina.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common causes of a fishy vaginal odor.

Several studies have demonstrated that (BV) increases the risk for preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), preterm delivery, and puerperal infections, (like chorioamnionitis and endometritis).

Women of a fertile age typically experience BV after sexual intercourse, although it is not a sexually transmitted infection. BV is caused by a bacterial imbalance of vaginal flora (most often the Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria and Bacteroides).

If you have bacterial vaginosis you are most likely to notice a fishy odor after sex. Symptoms may also include itching and a white, thin vaginal discharge and no inflammation.

Although BV is relatively common, it should be treated as soon as possible because it can increase a woman's risk of getting other genital infections and even sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic (Metronidazole) to clear up the infection and may also suggest topical solutions to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms.

Trichomoniasis or other STDs

The second most common cause of a fishy vaginal odor is sexually transmitted diseases like Trichomoniasis or Trichomonas vaginitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, trichomoniasis is fairly common and affects 3.7 million people in the United States.

Trichomoniasis, also known as “trich,” is not caused by vaginal bacteria. Instead, it is a parasitic disease passed between two people during sexual intercourse. Both men and women can have trich and can suffer from similar symptoms such as itching in or around the genitals and painful urination. However, only women may experience the unpleasant fish-like odor down there.

Like with all STDs, the only way to screen, diagnose and treat trichomoniasis is by visiting your doctor.

Only 30% of people with trich show any symptoms, which is why it’s important to get regular STD screenings from your doctor or gynecologist if you’re having unprotected sex with different partners. Symptoms include: frothy, yellow-green foul-smelling (may be fishy) discharge with inflammation (''strawberry cervix'').

If left untreated, trichomoniasis can lead to more serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, or preterm birth if you have it while pregnant.

woman holding paper with a question mark over her crotch

Pelvic inflammatory disease

The other reason why you might have a vaginal odor that’s fishy is if you are suffering from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). An estimated 750,000 to 1 million cases occur annually in the United States.

PID is an infection in your pelvis that happens when a vaginal infection spreads upwards into the reproductive organs like the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.

PID is strongly associated with infertility. 1 PID episode equals approximately 12% infertility, 2 episodes approximately 20%, 3 or more episodes around 40% chance of infertility.

PID is associated with ectopic pregnancy, the risk of ectopic pregnancy is increased 7 to 10-fold.

If you have pelvic inflammatory disease you may notice a fishy odor during sex

and even bleeding during or after sex.  Make an appointment to see your doctor if you are showing any symptoms or if you are having unprotected sex and not in a monogamous safe sex relationship.

Yeast infection

Another common cause of a fishy vaginal odor is a yeast infection. A yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, usually also presents as white, thick, and clumpy vaginal discharge usually caused by Candida albicans (80-90% of cases). The vaginal discharge from a yeast infection may also have a bread-like scent.

Yeast infections can also cause itching and may make urination painful or uncomfortable as well as pain during sex. Typically, a yeast infection requires treatment with special antifungal medication (azoles), which will normally clear up the symptoms within a week.

In some cases, a mild yeast infection can be treated with over-the-counter medication. It is always best to speak with your doctor if you think you have a yeast infection because they can perform a smear test to identify the specific type of fungus in your situation.

Excessive sweating

Do you tend to sweat, down there? Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling down if it’s overheating. Almost everyone sweats when they are doing a vigorous activity and some people sweat in response to stress or anxiety. Women who sweat excessively in the area around their pelvis may start to experience a fishy vaginal odor.

There are many ways that you can treat excessive sweating, including improving your overall hygiene and wearing natural fabrics and multi-layered clothing.

Extreme cases of a persistent fishy odor that is directly linked to sweating could be signs of a condition called trimethylaminuria. Speak to your doctor if your personal efforts to reduce excessive sweating aren’t improving your symptoms.

Your diet may affect your vaginal odor

A healthy woman’s vaginal odor is usually the result of the vagina’s natural pH balance. This is why certain external influences, like a women’s diet or even men’s sperm in the vagina, can influence vaginal odor.

Foods have different levels of acidity which react with the vagina’s microflora. Food and drinks that may cause an unpleasant vaginal odor include:

  • strong spices
  • smoked foods
  • onion or garlic
  • broccoli or asparagus
  • drinks like coffee or alcohol

Citrus fruits, on the other hand, can improve the smell and even taste of a woman’s vagina. Research also suggests that a vegetarian diet can improve vaginal odor by making it milder and more pleasant.

Woman presses pure white plastic pump bottle

Inadequate hygiene

In some cases, an unpleasant vaginal odor may simply be the result of improper hygiene. If you have a fishy odor with no discharge or a fishy odor with no discharge and no itching, you may be able to solve the problem by improving your hygiene.

A healthy hygiene routine for your vagina includes:

  • Wiping from front to back after peeing and pooping
  • Urinating after intercourse
  • Changing your underwear at least daily, more if you are sweating
  • Using unscented laundry products to wash your underwear
  • Washing the surfaces of your body with a gentle cleanser

You might be thinking that if you have a fishy vaginal odor that the best thing to do is to vigorously clean the area inside the vagina or mask the scent with a perfume. This is actually one of the worst things you can do, as exposure to chemicals will alter vaginal pH balance and can even worsen the odor and cause infections.

A tampon that was left in for long

When you are on your period, you may notice a foul, fishy-smelling odor if you leave your tampon in for too long. Change your tampons and pads regularly, according to the heaviness of your menstrual flow. Avoid using tampons with a higher-than-necessary absorption as this could cause dryness in your vagina.

If you have lost or forgotten a tampon inside of you, you may be at risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), though the condition is quite rare. (1 to 2:100,000 women).

If you can, safely remove the tampon as soon as possible. See your doctor only if you cannot remove the tampon yourself, or if you were wearing a tampon for a long period of time and have sudden high fever, vomiting or diarrhea and rashes on your hands and feet.

Menstrual cycle

Some women experience a change in vaginal odor before their period, which is related to bacteria and acidity levels in the vagina at different times in their menstrual cycle.

When you are on your period, the blood (with an elevated pH) and uterine lining mix with the microflora in the vagina walls, which can subtly affect smell.

Women may also notice a slight fishy odor after their period, which is normal as long as it’s not a sign of a forgotten tampon!

If you are in menopause and have a fishy odor, the smell can be due to hormonal changes that can influence scent and also make the vagina feel dry.

Fishy vaginal odor: treatment

If you have a slight fishy odor and no discharge, you may be able to treat it with home remedies:

Use gentle, unscented cleansers

Avoid using scented soaps, bubble baths, and vaginal deodorants, which can actually aggravate symptoms by causing further imbalance in or the vaginal flora. Gently clean the vulva only with water or an unscented cleanser. Never use strong soap or try to clean inside the vagina.

These are just a few of many hygienic tips to improve vaginal odor.

Avoid douching

Douching is a practice that should only be prescribed by a doctor if medically necessary. Douching may aggravate symptoms and limit the vagina’s ability to self-clean with vaginal discharge.

Try probiotics

Probiotic supplements or those found in specialty foods like yogurts can help support the body’s production and balance of healthy bacteria.

If the smell persists or you have a fishy odor and discharge, home remedies may not be appropriate.

When is it time to see a doctor?

If you are experiencing persistent vaginal odor and you have tried improving your hygiene practices, it may be time to see a doctor.

You should always see a doctor if a fishy vaginal odor is accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms like itching, burning or bleeding.

Frequently asked questions on fishy vaginal odor

Do you still have some questions about vaginal odor? Here are some frequently asked questions that other women have had about a fishy vaginal odor.

Does chlamydia have a fishy odor?

Chlamydia in women is very common and can sometimes go undetected.

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that can sometimes cause vaginitis and/or bacterial vaginosis, which may result in a fishy odor.

Fishy odor after sex - what does it mean?

A fishy vaginal odor after unprotected sex could be normal if the smell is subtle or it goes away after bathing and has no accompanying symptoms like itching or burning.  This is due to the mix of vaginal discharge and sperm and their related pH levels.

If the smell persists or is very strong, this could indicate bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted disease.

If you engaged in anal sex, a fishy odor from your anus could indicate a sexually transmitted disease. Be sure to get screened for vaginal and anal sexually-transmitted diseases when you go for testing.

Fishy odor during pregnancy - reason to start worrying?

A fishy odor during pregnancy either in the urine or in vaginal discharge could indicate a possible infection like a urinary tract infection or bacterial vaginosis. If left untreated, the condition could cause preterm birth or a low birth weight for the baby.

What about a fishy odor postpartum? After childbirth, women can be at risk for developing postpartum infections, which may include symptoms like a fishy odor.

Be sure to speak to your doctor if you notice a fishy odor during or after your pregnancy.

Every healthy woman’s vagina has a unique and subtle smell, which is normally not noticeable to anyone but you. Your smell can also change throughout your menstrual cycle so be sure to track your daily symptoms using the Flo app.

If you start to notice a strong fishy odor with other symptoms like vaginal itching, burning, pain or bleeding, be sure to visit your doctor or gynecologist. Only they can perform the necessary lab screening to diagnose and treat the problem.


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