Stinky Genitals
December 7, 2007 11:52 PM   Subscribe

What would cause a woman's vaginal discharge to smell strongly of mildew?

The smell is unmistakable: it's mildew, like a wet carpet or old shower curtain liner. Not fishy, not musky, not at all good. No considerable increase in discharge, no itching. It happens every few months without warning and seems impervious to showers and careful drying. Underwear: Always cotton crotch. No correlation with sex. Usually lasts under a week. Help?
posted by Drohan to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Yeast infection? You said there was itching and especially since it occurs once in a while and then lasts for a couple of days, I am thinking a yeast infection. Be careful, it could be indirectly sex related. If you have HPV, taking antibiotics will almost always flare up a yeast infection, so consider that. Don't douche, the chemicals and scents will make it worse.

More specific questions...have you kept a note of when the itching occurs? Around the same time of the month, perhaps during ovulation or after? It would be a good idea to keep track of the itching, that way if you do decide to go to a doctor, it is more detailed information to let them know. But from what you have shared, I am thinking yeast infection.
posted by dnthomps at 12:01 AM on December 8, 2007

Response by poster: I'm sorry--I said no itching.
posted by Drohan at 12:05 AM on December 8, 2007

The OP said "no itching".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:05 AM on December 8, 2007

Oops, my mistake, read too fast. I would still check on the yeast infection though. Some people don't follow the typical symptoms.
posted by dnthomps at 12:11 AM on December 8, 2007

bacterial vaginosis?
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:22 AM on December 8, 2007

Seconding Innocent. Odd vaginal odors are usually related to an infection or an imbalance of chemicals. It's very easily treated. Talk to your gynocologist. He/she can do some tests and let you know if the smell is caused by something treatable.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 12:37 AM on December 8, 2007

Ask Grahamazon: Cadaverine and Putrescine
posted by dendrite at 1:20 AM on December 8, 2007

Reaction to a certain food, possibly? Some foods are known for making all kinds of bodily fluids smelly, although of course at that point you're back to it being just as likely to be a yeast infection flaring up due to what you've eaten.
posted by anaelith at 1:36 AM on December 8, 2007

An interesting and frustrating note: If it is bacterial vaginosis, the careful washing may be the cause. Soap changes the PH of your vagina, allowing some unwanted bacteria to flourish. Once your flora is out of wack, it can be difficult for it to right itself again permanently.

I've had a several bouts of BV, coming on for no apparent reason, and every doctor I've seen for it has advised me to stop washing the area with soap. Forever. I can't bring myself to do that, so I occasionally end up with the problem again.

Bottom line though, whenever anything odd is going on down there, go see a gynecologist. It's usually a really easy fix, and usually a common problem (though you can't tell, because women never talk about it). Your gyneo can answer this in just a few minutes when all we can really do is guess.
posted by FortyT-wo at 2:50 AM on December 8, 2007

I would suspect a yeast/fungal infection. A standard yeast infection is caused by Candida, which smells more bread-like. Aspergillus is a common cause of mildew (and its smell), and some species are also human pathogens, though usually in the lungs. I'm not a doctor or even close, but a brief google search showed that Aspergillus has been found in at least one woman's lady parts, so it is possible, but rare. I'd check it out with a doctor, because some fungi make really nasty stuff like aflatoxin B1.
posted by fermezporte at 5:40 AM on December 8, 2007

It could totally be a yeast infection. You don't need to have all the symptoms (i.e. itching); some women get them with no symptoms at all. And they can definitely occur even with good shower practices and cotton panties. A gynecologist could tell.

Hard to do in the winter, but sleeping naked can help (or not wearing panties under the pajamas.)
posted by wyzewoman at 5:41 AM on December 8, 2007

You say it happens every few months... is it at the same point in your cycle every time it does happen?
Are you on any form of hormonal birth control? Do you use tampons, a divacup, or sea sponge?
One of these things could be linked.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2007

Get thee to a gyno.
posted by inconsequentialist at 4:23 PM on December 8, 2007

Get thee to a gyno.
What they said.

(and remember, if you don't have insurance planned parenthood charges on an income-based sliding scale, so no excuses!)
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:44 PM on December 8, 2007

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