The sight of yeast infection discharge is something no woman ever wants to see. Considering the unbearable itchiness, inflammation, and overall discomfort that you get from a yeast infection, it’s a huge bummer that your poor underwear can’t even catch a break from dreaded yeast infection symptoms. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that not all discharge down there is from an infection, and not all discharge is "bad" discharge. Knowing how to spot the difference between normal discharge and yeast infection discharge can help prevent a future freak-out — or an unnecessary trip to the doctor — in the future.
What is yeast infection discharge?
In order to understand what yeast infection discharge looks like, we first need to understand what a yeast infection actually is — other than intensely annoying, of course. A vaginal yeast infection, also known as vaginal candidiasis, is a fungal infection affecting the vagina due to a yeast called Candida, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
That fungus problem is exactly what causes yeast infection discharge, according to Lauren Streicher, MD, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. Dr. Streicher told FirstForWomen.com: "When you look at a yeast infection, generally what you have is a white, thick, cottage-cheesy discharge that is very itchy."
This distinct appearance and itchiness may also be accompanied by a mild, yeasty odor, but it won’t necessarily be a terrible smell. Streicher added that you might spot some redness on the vulva and the opening of the vagina as well.
Paying close attention to your symptoms is key to getting the right treatment. Streicher said it's common for women to mistake other infections, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), for a yeast infection. In the case of BV, it differs from a yeast infection in that you're more likely to see a watery discharge that is irritating as opposed to itchy and includes a much stronger odor. If you have any doubt about whether you have a yeast infection or another type of condition, always check with your gynecologist.
What does normal discharge look like?
A normal discharge should be clearish white in color. It shouldn’t be is irritating in any way. And it shouldn’t have an odor. But the last part, Streicher said, can be confusing for many women.
"One of the things that makes it really challenging is what we call perceived vaginal odor versus real vaginal odor," she said. "Some women culturally are brought up to think that the vagina's a terrible, nasty, horrible place. When you look at a normal vaginal odor, some women perceive themselves as having a nasty odor."
To clarify, Streicher said that women should not think the vagina is totally without scent; rather, they should know that the small scent that is there shouldn’t be fishy or otherwise foul.
She also wants women to know that a normal discharge can look slightly different at various times during their cycles. For instance, some women observe thicker or stretchier discharge while they’re ovulating, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Don't ever be afraid to talk to your doctor if you notice anything abnormal happening down there. But in the meantime, it never hurts to pay closer attention to your cycle and your discharge to determine what truly is "normal" for you.