Vaginal odor is a natural part of life, but it can be alarming when the smell is unpleasant. Understanding what’s normal and when to seek medical help can make the difference.
Dehydration often causes urine to have a stronger odor, and it’s this scent that’s misinterpreted as genital odor. Drinking plenty of water can reduce this odor and prevent urinary tract infections.
Every vulva has a natural odor. It can range from a mild musky to slightly sour smell. But if it smells like cat pee, you’re likely dehydrated or have an overgrowth of not-so-good bacteria. Fortunately, most of the time this is nothing to worry about, especially if you’re feeling good.
The exact make-up of the bacteria down there is constantly changing depending on what you eat, your menstrual cycle, when you last had sex and more. Subtle shifts in the odor are totally normal.
For instance, a strong urine-like odor can occur when you forget to change your tampon. It’s important to switch out your tampon for a new one every 4 – 6 hours. Otherwise, a tampon left in too long can lead to a foul odor, resembling rotten meat.
In some cases, the odor can be due to a yeast infection. These infections can also cause burning when you urinate, itching and a gray vaginal discharge. In the event that you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
You can try to reduce the odor by wearing cotton underwear, drinking lots of water, not douching and limiting foods that can cause strong urine-like odors like Brussels sprouts, garlic and onions. You can also eat probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurts and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha tea and pickles.
Those sweat glands down there aren’t shy about producing some aromas. But that doesn’t mean the smell is anything to squirm at — as long as it’s not overwhelming.
If the odor is strong and has a sour, fishy, or chemical smell to it, that could be caused by an infection like bacterial vaginosis (BV). A powerful, urine-like odor with a white and clumpy discharge are common symptoms of BV. If you have these symptoms, see your gyno right away.
Vaginal odors vary based on what you eat, how much you drink, your menstrual cycle, and if you’re pregnant or have had sex recently. The bacteria that live in your vulva are delicately balanced, and anything that affects the microbiome can alter the scent or type of discharge.
A tangy or slightly sweet smell is normal during pregnancy. It’s often due to an overpopulation of friendly bacteria, called Lactobacilli, which can be increased by eating foods rich in probiotics like yogurt and fermented veggies.
It’s also possible that the odor is caused by something else down there, like a yeast infection. Yeast infections are common, and they can be triggered by hormones, antibiotics, certain cleansers, or pregnancy. They’re usually easy to treat with anti-fungal medication. If your odor is accompanied by itching or a rash, see your gyno immediately.
Disruption of the Bacterial Community
When your bacterial community is off balance, it can lead to an infection like bacterial vaginosis. This can cause a fishy or ammonia-like smell. This happens because of an imbalance of good bacteria and too much bad bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis usually goes away on its own, but antibiotics may be needed for severe cases. Women can help prevent bacterial vaginosis by not douching and using condoms consistently. They should also avoid eating certain foods that are known to affect the odor of urine, such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, garlic and onions.
Yeast infections, which are caused by a yeast called candida, can also cause a fishy or ammonia-like odor. These infections often include itching and burning sensations as well as a lumpy white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Yeast infections can be prevented by taking daily probiotic supplements, such as Flora Bloom’s Probiotic for Women.
A coppery or metallic smell is not a common vaginal odor, but it can happen. This is because blood carries a metallic aroma due to its iron content. This can occur during menstruation or if you’ve left a forgotten tampon in your vagina for too long. If you notice this odor, speak to your gynecologist. Rarely, a foul-smelling vagina can be a symptom of cervical or uterine cancer. Your gynecologist will be able to tell you whether or not it’s an emergency situation.
During certain times, you may notice an odor that smells similar to cat urine. These moments are normal and typically caused by an infection. These infections include yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and bacterial vaginosis, and usually come with additional symptoms like itching, burning, or unusual discharge.
Infections can also be a result of a dietary change, especially foods that are high in sulfur or garlic. These foods can cause the body to produce a more concentrated urine that may have an odor reminiscent of cat pee, and can be mistaken for genital odor.
If a strong odor persists even after rinsing and drinking more water, it could be time to visit your doctor. They can provide the right prescription to ensure the issue is properly addressed and treated.
Remember that every vagina has a natural odor and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about! And if you’re curious about the best products to keep your vulva healthy, check out Wisp’s range of feminine hygiene products that provide a gentle, natural lubrication with no added fragrance or chemicals. You can also use panty liners to help soak up any leaks and help prevent urinary incontinence. If you experience a new and unusual odor accompanied by itching, burning, or other symptoms, consult your gynecologist immediately. Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications, while bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections will require a prescription from your gynecologist.