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Clear Vaginal Discharge: Know the Causes

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Last updated May 30, 2024

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Clear vaginal discharge is an often common and normal symptom from the female reproductive system. Clear stretchy discharge is a sign of ovulation, while clear watery vaginal discharge occurs between periods, sexual arousal, or pregnancy. Thick clear vaginal discharge can indicate something more serious like a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or menopause. Read below for more causes, related symptoms, and treatment options.

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Clear vaginal discharge symptoms explained

Don't feel alarmed or embarassed to be researching this topic, most women have some level of vaginal discharge and it is considered a normal bodily process. However, what characterizes normal vaginal discharge is usually that of clear or white color. Some women discharge daily, while for others, it is more intermittent. Probably no one will describe it as a pleasant experience, yet it is usually nothing to worry about. Even still, it is a good idea to take vaginal discharge seriously and be mindful of its occurrence.

Common characteristics of clear vaginal discharge

Clear vaginal discharge may be described by:

The vagina naturally produces mucus that can often discharge. Discharge also includes skin cells and normal secretions. Typically, this discharge is clear or white and is common, particularly in women of childbearing age. Age, menstrual cycle, taking oral contraceptives, and being pregnant can all affect the amount of normal clear vaginal discharge. Conversely, taking antibiotics, douching, and having sex can be negative influences on discharge. Increases in the amount of discharge or, more importantly, changes in the color, smell, and condition of the vagina can be a signal of larger issues.

Understanding your body and monitoring vaginal discharge is an important step toward identifying a problem. Relating clear vaginal discharge symptoms to the cause can also be critical.

What causes clear vaginal discharge?

There are several factors that can increase clear vaginal discharge symptoms or cause changes to discharge that are worth monitoring. Often times, limiting or completely stopping behaviors that adversely affect discharge can be a positive step toward managing discharge.

  • Natural causes: The female body experiences natural hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and pregnancy. Hormonal imbalances are the most likely cause of varying levels of clear vaginal discharge. Ovulation, pregnancy, and sexual excitement can all cause an increase in the amount of clear vaginal discharge.
  • Medications: Certain medications like antibiotics or birth control pills can affect bacterial growth in the vagina. These bacteria are linked to both normal and abnormal discharge.
  • Environmental factors: Poor psychological well-being, being depressed, or having high anxiety levels for example, has been linked to abnormal vaginal discharge. Douching is a process of cleaning the vagina that can affect bacterial growth and alter vaginal discharge. Taking contraceptives may impact the amount or frequency of vaginal discharge.
  • Disease: Anything that impacts pH and hormone levels in the body can result in variations in vaginal discharge. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), diabetes, and cancer are examples of diseases that impact the amount of vaginal discharge.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection, also called genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis, is actually caused by the fungus Candida albicans and is very common. The organism is a normal inhabitant of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina.

Antibiotics can kill off the healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing overgrowth of the fungus. Women who are pregnant, on the birth control pill, or diabetic are more prone to yeast infections, as are those who have weakened immune systems. It can also be transmitted through sex or through mouth-to-genital contact.

Symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and soreness inside the vagina and on the external tissues (the vulva,) and a thick, white vaginal discharge.

If not treated, the yeast infection can become "complicated," severe, and difficult to cure.

Most yeast infections are diagnosed simply through the patient's description of symptoms. Recurrent infections may be diagnosed through pelvic examination and vaginal swab.

Treatment often is just an over-the-counter cream, though oral anti-fungal medications are sometimes prescribed.

Vaginal trichomonas infection

Trichomonas vaginalis infection (or "Trichomoniasis" or "trich") is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite of the same name. It affects over 3 million people per year, but only about 30% have any symptoms.

You should go see your primary care doctor in the coming days. He or she may order a number of tests to identify if the bug is actually the cause of your symptoms. Treatment involves prescription metronidazole or tinidazole.

Symptoms of menopause

Menopause, or "change of life," refers to the time when a woman no longer has menstrual cycles and can no longer bear children.

It is a normal occurrence and usual happens between ages 45 to 55. Menopause can be artificially induced by surgical removal of both ovaries, and by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy for cancer.

Symptoms usually begin many months before periods actually stop. There will be irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, weight gain from slower metabolism, and dry skin.

If not treated, some symptoms may affect quality of life. Hot flashes and hormonal imbalances can disrupt sleep, sexual function, and emotional health.

At menopause, risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, and urinary incontinence increase. Because periods can become irregular while pregnancy is still possible, testing is advisable before any medical treatment is done.

Menopause is diagnosed when an entire year has gone by without the woman experiencing a menstrual period. Blood testing for hormone levels can confirm menopause.

Treatment can be done for any troublesome symptoms, including hormone replacement therapy to ease hot flashes.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is the general term for a bacterial infection of a woman's reproductive organs.

PID is most often a complication of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, it is possible to get PID from other causes.

Any woman can be affected. It is most often found in sexually active women under age 25, especially those who have had PID before, have multiple partners, and/or douche frequently.

Symptoms include fever, lower abdominal pain, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, pain and/or bleeding during sex, and pain on urination.

Untreated PID can cause infertility due to damaged tissue in the reproductive tract, as well as chronic pelvic and abdominal pain. Unprotected sex partners will be infected as well.

Diagnosis is made through symptoms, pelvic examination, vaginal and cervical swabs, and urine tests.

Treatment is with a course of antibiotics. Be sure to finish all of the medication as directed, even when you begin feeling better.

To prevent PID, have all partners (male or female) tested for STDs and avoid unprotected sexual contact.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal discharge, nausea or vomiting, vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain

Symptoms that always occur with pelvic inflammatory disease:fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge

Urgency: In-person visit

Ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) or midcycle spotting

Mittelschmerz is a German word that translates as "middle pain." It refers to the normal discomfort sometimes felt by women during ovulation, which is at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle.

Each month, one of the two ovaries forms a follicle that holds an egg cell. The pain occurs when the follicle ruptures and releases the egg.

This is a dull, cramping sensation that may begin suddenly in only one side of the lower abdomen. In a few cases, there may be vaginal spotting. Mittelschmerz occurs about 14 days before the start of the next menstrual period.

Actual Mittelschmerz is not associated with nausea, vomiting, fever, or severe pelvic pain. These symptoms should be evaluated by a medical provider since they can indicate a more serious condition.

Diagnosis is made through patient history.

Treatment requires only over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the pain. An oral contraceptive will stop the symptoms, since it also stops ovulation.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), last period approximately 2 weeks ago, vaginal bleeding, bloody vaginal discharge, pelvis pain

Symptoms that always occur with ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) or midcycle spotting: last period approximately 2 weeks ago

Urgency: Self-treatment

Normal case of vaginal discharge

It is perfectly normal for every woman to have a clear or thin white vaginal discharge which is more or less constant.

The body protects the vaginal tissues by producing this light mucus from glands in the cervix and in the vaginal walls. This keeps the tissues lubricated so that they do not dry out and become irritated, and keeps the tissues slightly acidic because that helps to kill off any harmful germs.

The discharge is also a cleaning mechanism, clearing away any dead cells or bacteria as it moves out of the vagina. Douching is not necessary for normal discharge.

Vaginal discharge may change at different stages of life. During pregnancy, it becomes white and milky in appearance.

During and after menopause, the discharge lessens due to the drop in estrogen levels. If the dryness causes irritation or difficulty with sexual activity, a gynecologist can recommend an appropriate remedy.

Normal vaginal discharge never causes itching or has a foul smell, and is never any color other than clear or white.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: vaginal discharge, mild vaginal discharge, white/gray vaginal discharge, clear vaginal discharge, severe vaginal discharge

Symptoms that always occur with normal case of vaginal discharge: vaginal discharge

Symptoms that never occur with normal case of vaginal discharge:vaginal itch or burning, painful urination, severe vaginal discharge, vaginal pain, bleeding after sex, missed period, vulvovaginal odor

Urgency: Wait and watch

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina due to overgrowth of the bacteria which are normally present.

It is not considered an STD (sexually transmitted disease) but nearly all cases are found in women after unprotected sexual contact, especially with multiple partners.

Frequent douching is also a factor.

Male partners do not carry this condition, but it can spread between female partners.

Common symptoms include an itchy, foul-smelling discharge that may look grayish or greenish, as well as burning during urination. However, some women have no symptoms.

The greatest risks of bacterial vaginosis are secondary. The symptoms can be similar to actual STDs and so should not be ignored. This condition makes a woman more vulnerable to actual STDs, as well as to pelvic inflammatory disease and to infections following any gynecologic surgery.

Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis are at risk for premature or low-birth-weight babies.

Diagnosis is made through symptoms, and/or pelvic exam and vaginal swab.

Treatment consists of oral medication, and sometimes a cream or gel that is inserted into the vagina.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal odor, bloody vaginal discharge, white/gray vaginal discharge, thick vaginal discharge

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Atrophic vaginitis

Atrophic vaginitis is a condition causing dryness of the vagina. It is caused by a drop in estrogen levels, which happens due to menopause, stress, medication side effects, and childbirth. Other symptoms include painful sex and vaginal soreness.

You should consider visiting a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. Atrophic vaginitis is evaluated with a review of your symptoms and a pelvic exam. Once diagnosed, it can be treated with estrogen replacement, moisturizers, and lubricants. Avoiding douching and perfumes may help dryness from worsening.

Symptoms of menopause

Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping

Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause: delay in or irregular periods

Urgency: Self-treatment

Treatments for red and swollen lower legs

If you typically experience clear vaginal discharge, then the treatment may likely be to "wait and see" rather than "rush to the doctor." As discussed, clear vaginal discharge is typically a normal byproduct of the female body and does not need treatment. The more urgent concern is not when normal discharge is clear and consistent, but when it begins to change, as this may be a sign of infection or other health issues.

When to see a doctor for clear vaginal discharge

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following:

If measures must be taken, there may be steps that you can take at home or others that require a medical professional.

Professional clear vaginal discharge treatments

Your health care professional may prescribe antibiotics for certain types of sexually transmitted diseases or yeast infections. Vaginal creams may be necessary to treat vaginitis.

At-home clear vaginal discharge treatments

You can address your clear vaginal discharge symptoms at home with the following measures.

  • Product avoidance: A wide range of common products can irritate the vagina. These irritants include feminine hygiene spray, soaps, tampons, bubble bath, body creams, and laundry detergents/fabric softener.
  • Allowing more air to reach the vagina can be beneficial: This can be accomplished by wearing looser clothes, avoiding synthetic underwear, or wearing no underwear.

Here are some over the counter treatment that might help:

  • Probiotics: Support your vaginal health and maintain its natural balance. Consider a supplement specifically designed for women's health.
  • Hygiene Products: Opt for unscented, gentle products to maintain hygiene without disrupting your vaginal flora.

The good news in all of this is that some level of clear vaginal discharge is normal for many women. If you see changes in the amount or frequency of clear vaginal discharge, give your doctor a call. An even stronger indicator of a medical issue is changes to the appearance and smell of the discharge. If this starts to happen, it's time for a checkup.

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FAQs about clear vaginal discharge

Can clear vaginal discharge be an early sign of pregnancy?

Women who are pregnant tend to have an increased amount of vaginal discharge. In fact, increased clear vaginal discharge can often be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, sometimes appearing even before a missed period is noticed. Often times, this increased level of discharge continues throughout a pregnancy.

Why do I have clear discharge after my period?

Vaginal discharge is common, particularly around the menstrual cycle. Normal discharge flushes harmful bacteria from the vagina. After your period is complete and your body has eliminated the blood and tissue from the uterus, additional flushing may be required to complete the cycle or your body may simply be returning to its normal state and producing clear discharge.

Is clear discharge normal?

Yes, clear vaginal discharge is normal. The vagina regularly discharges to help keep itself clean and remove old cells. The amount of discharge varies from person to person, but it is normal to anticipate clear, non-odorous discharge.

Why does my clear discharge have an odor?

Odor associated with vaginal discharge can be a sign of problems with the vagina. Infections, irritation, and inflammation of the vagina can result in changes to the amount, color, and odor of discharge. STDs and vaginitis are both known causes of odorous discharge. Depending on the cause, avoidance of irritating health products and maintaining good hygiene may also eliminate the odor.

Odor associated with vaginal discharge can be a sign of problems with the vagina. Infections, irritation, and inflammation of the vagina can result in changes to the amount, color, and odor of discharge. STDs and vaginitis are both known causes of odorous discharge. Depending on the cause, avoidance of irritating health products and maintaining good hygiene may also eliminate the odor.

Why do I feel burning when I have clear discharge?

A burning sensation during discharge is a sign of complications inside the vagina and likely the sign of an infection. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) often cause a burning feeling. The use of irritating health products in and around the vagina can also cause burning.

Questions your doctor may ask about clear vaginal discharge

  • Are you sexually active?
  • Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • When was your last menstrual period?
  • Do you use birth control beside condoms?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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