Aunt Vadge: I’ve got a bad smell coming from my vagina

Hi Aunt Vadge,

For the last year or two now I’ve been noticing a smell from my vagina, that leaves my underwear and even my trousers smelling of it. Sometimes I think I can even smell it when I’m just sitting with people, and I worry that they can smell it too. As well as this, there is always discharge left on my underwear that is white/yellow, and I wondered if this was normal, but I think that along with the smell, it may not be! 

But there is no pain at all, or bleeding, or anything else that I have noticed. It can make me embarrassed and really anxious, and I’ve never had any sexual partners but if I did I would be really embarrassed. Without any pain or irritation, is there any need/benefit in going to the doctors? Do you have any idea what this may be? I’m too embarrassed to go! 

Age: 16 
Country: England

Dear Embarrassed,

It sounds like you have bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can occur without any sexual activity – it’s a microbe problem. It can be really embarrassing, for sure, and it needs to be sorted out quick smart – you can’t go around in life with a smelly vagina!

Don’t ever be scared to go to the doctor when something is wrong with your vagina – it might just save your life one day. Vaginal infections are really, really common, and there are lots of solutions, so I would advise you to form a good relationship with a female doctor you trust, who you can visit anytime something goes awry. You are 16, and have your whole vaginal life ahead of you, and it will be full of stuff – infections, sex, periods, babies, check-ups. Get used to it now, and be diligent with your vaginal healthcare.

Getting a proper diagnosis for issues is very important, because you don’t want to be treating the wrong thing.  While you are not obliged to do what the doctor suggests, generally for most things this works very well. When it comes to vaginas, western medicine has a few hurdles to overcome in treatments, so it pays to do your homework to find possible alternative solutions to common problems (but be careful to avoid forums where nobody knows what they are talking about!), and discuss them with your doctor. BV and yeast infections, for example, are treatable at home, but you need to be sure that this what’s wrong. Over time you will learn what things look and feel like, and be able to deal with common problems at home, but until then, your doctor and her tests will be your ally. Go to the doctor.

The doctor will do a test on your vagina (and give you your first examination to check everything is normal, which is great) to see what’s wrong. If it is BV, the test will come back positive for Gardnerella vaginalis, a bacteria that is commonly found in BV. What this means is your vagina has an overgrowth of bacteria that has caused the vagina to become more alkaline, and the normal bacteria can’t survive, since they love an acidic environment (lactobacilli). These bacteria create what’s known as a biofilm, which is a sticky microscopic layer made up of all sorts of other bacteria and substances, which is a barrier to your normal flora being able to flourish. This is what is causing the smell.

The concept is simple, but getting rid of it can be tricky, and the antibiotics that the doctor prescribes only work just over half the time. Recurrent BV that is unresponsive to treatment is really common, and terrible – living with a smelly vagina is really bad for your soul. The doctor will prescribe you antibiotics, but there are other ways to get rid of it if it is BV. You can try antibiotics and hope you are in the 50 per cent it works for (which would be great!) but if the biofilm is strong, the antibiotics will work for the duration you take them, then it will just ‘come back’ – but it just never went away. Antibiotics do not work very well on biofilms, because they can’t penetrate it.

We’ve got a whole section on BV, and a book on how to get break down the bacterial biofilm. I would suggest you get the book, Killing BV – if you don’t have access to your own money, please fill out the Payment Waiver Application and we’ll get you a copy free. The book is available on the iTunes store and Amazon too if that’s easier. Your book purchase gives you access to the Support Section and free email support for your treatment.

To get rid of the smell right now, you can get a bottle of hydrogen peroxide (no weaker than 3 per cent and no stronger than 6 per cent) and a syringe cannister or douche, and fill your vagina with the hydrogen peroxide and hold it in for as long as possible. That is quite effective at removing smells immediately. Six per cent really is better, but sometimes it’s not available. Repeat this until your vagina feels squeaky clean. It might sting a little bit, but generally this is well tolerated. If it causes unpleasant symptoms or a bad reaction, stop using it. Here is our guide on douching with hydrogen peroxide. 

You need to go to the doctor before you start douching, so that the doctor can get a proper swab done – if you wash all the bacteria away, the test will come back negative. You need a proper diagnosis, so book your appointment today or tomorrow, and then you can do the hydrogen peroxide douche, read the book, and get some understanding about what’s happening to you. If you opt for antibiotics (which I have no doubt you will be prescribed), it can be a really valuable adjunct to do the treatment plan in the book at the same time. You get the double whammy impact of the home treatments and the antibiotics, which can really boost the treatment.

The recolonisation element is critical. You must repopulate the good bacteria, so use the book there too. It has everything you need to know.

Write anytime.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge