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What Is Yellow Discharge? Causes and Treatments

What Is Yellow Discharge? Causes and Treatments

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist based in Australia. She has a Master's degree in Health Communication and a Bachelor's degree in journalism.

Learn about our editorial processPublished on January 07, 2022Medically reviewedVerywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.byChioma Ndubisi, MD Medically reviewed byChioma Ndubisi, MD

Chioma Ndubisi, MD, is a board-certified OB/GYN who specializes in sexual and reproductive health in New York, New York.

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Vaginal discharge is normal and helps the vagina cleanse itself. Yellow discharge can occur when healthy, normal discharge (which is initially clear mucus) comes into contact with the air and turns white or yellow.

Discharge may also be yellow as it passes through the vaginal walls, from microbes normally present in the vagina (vaginal flora), from vaginal fluid, or from a small amount of blood still present after menses. But a dark-yellow discharge may be a sign of infections that require treatment by a doctor.

Learn more about the causes of yellow vaginal discharge and how to treat it.

What Is Yellow Discharge

Discharge from the vagina is normal, and it can happen at any time throughout the menstrual cycle.

Normal discharge that is not a cause for concern is:

Discharge that is clear may turn yellow upon contact with the air or other interactions with the vaginal environment. This is normal. But yellow discharge can also be a sign of infection.

Causes of Yellow Discharge

Yellow discharge can be a sign of a normal, healthy vagina. But it may also be a sign of infections or underlying conditions.

Menstruation

Discharge that turns yellow upon contact with air may happen at any time during the menstrual cycle. In the middle of the menstrual cycle, some people may notice an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge they experience. This is due to increased estrogen levels.

During this time, the discharge may change color and may be:

Early Pregnancy

An increase in discharge can be an indication of pregnancy. In pregnancy, the body prepares for birth by softening the cervix (the lower neck of the uterus that connects to the vagina) and vaginal walls. To stop infections from reaching the womb (uterus), the body produces more discharge.

This discharge is normal and is usually clear or white. However, it may turn yellow upon contact with the air, such as when it is left in underwear for a while.

Vaginitis

"Vaginitis" is a term used to describe a number of conditions that can cause infections and inflammation in the vagina. These can include infections stemming from bacteria, viruses, or yeast, as well as vaginal irritation due to the use of sprays or chemicals near the vagina.

Vaginitis may cause symptoms like:

STIs Such as Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause a discharge from the vagina that is yellow.

What Is Yellow Discharge? Causes and Treatments

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. It is the most common nonviral form of sexually transmitted infection in the world. It is possible to have it without realizing it as it doesn't always cause symptoms. However, it may cause a discharge from the vagina that is:

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are caused by bacteria and are common sexually transmitted infections. They may cause a discharge from the vagina that is:

You may also experience:

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that impacts the reproductive organs (the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries).

Not everyone will experience symptoms. But those who do may have:

Cervicitis

Cervicitis refers to an inflammation of the cervix. It has infectious and noninfectious causes. Often, the condition will not cause any symptoms at all. But those who do have symptoms may experience:

As well, cervicitis may cause an abnormal vaginal discharge that persists and may be:

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when the balance of microbes normally found in the vagina becomes disturbed, leading to irritation. There may be no symptoms.

When there are symptoms, a strong, fishy odor is common. The discharge may be thin and watery and is often described as off-white or gray, but it may be yellow or greenish.

Yellow Discharge During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a person may experience an increase in discharge. This is normal and nothing to worry about. Healthy discharge during pregnancy is clear and white and doesn't have a smell. If this discharge is left in underwear for a while, it may turn yellow due to contact with the air.

However, a pregnant person should speak with their healthcare professional if their discharge is:

This can be a sign of an infection that warrants attention from a healthcare provider.

Preventing Yellow Discharge

While clear discharge that turns yellow in underwear is nothing to worry about, there are ways to prevent yellow discharge that stems from infections or irritations.

Use Protection

Using protection (barrier methods such as condoms during sex) prevents the risks of both STIs and pregnancy. Condoms can work to prevent both STIs and pregnancy, but they must be worn correctly in order to be effective.

Also, condoms cannot offer complete protection against syphilis, herpes, or human papillomavirus (HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer).

Know Sexual Partners

If you are having sex, it is important to be honest with your partner about your own sexual history, as well as asking questions about their past sexual history.

Before having sex:

Avoid Douching

Douching is rinsing the vagina by forcing water or other solutions into it. The vagina is naturally self-cleaning, and douching is not necessary.

The chemicals found in douches can be irritating to the vagina and can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria found in the vagina. Douching can cause infections to spread to the uterus and, in turn, increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.

The smells you notice in your genital area typically come from outside the vagina, in the vulva. You can keep the vulva clean by washing with water and a gentle soap.

Avoid Fragrances

Fragrances found in some products can be irritating to the vagina and can also change the levels of healthy bacteria in the vagina.

It is best to avoid fragrances found in:

When to See a Healthcare Provider for Treatment

Anytime you are concerned about your health, you should speak with your healthcare professional.

Contact your provider right away if you have:

Treatment will depend on what is causing the discharge and other symptoms. The underlying cause may require prescription medications. For some bacterial infections, this will include antibiotics.

Summary

Yellow discharge can be normal and simply a sign of regular clear discharge changing color upon contact with the air. But it may also be a sign of infections, including STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease. Yellow discharge may also be noted in early pregnancy. If you are concerned about your discharge or your health, speak with your healthcare professional.

A Word From Verywell

Being aware of both normal and unusual changes in your vaginal discharge is a good health habit. Your discharge will change throughout your menstrual cycle. Knowing this can help you spot signs that may indicate a problem and get it diagnosed before it causes complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

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