What causes genital discharge and how can it be treated?

Symptom Database

Genital discharge is a common symptom that can occur in both males and females. It can be a sign of various conditions, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other underlying health issues. Understanding the causes and treatment options for genital discharge is crucial for maintaining sexual health. In this article, we will explore the different causes of genital discharge and discuss effective treatment methods.

What is Genital Discharge?

Genital discharge refers to any abnormal fluid that is expelled from the genitals. In females, this is commonly known as vaginal discharge, while in males, it is referred to as penile discharge. Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or white and helps to keep the vagina clean and lubricated. However, when the discharge becomes excessive, changes in color, consistency, or odor, it may indicate an underlying issue.

Causes of Genital Discharge

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

One of the most common causes of abnormal genital discharge is sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes can all lead to changes in vaginal or penile discharge. These infections are typically transmitted through sexual contact and require medical treatment.

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections, also known as candidiasis, can cause abnormal vaginal discharge in females. This type of infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina, leading to symptoms such as thick, white discharge and itching. Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medications.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. It can result in a grayish-white discharge with a fishy odor. Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

While urinary tract infections primarily affect the urinary system, they can also cause changes in vaginal discharge. UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urethra and multiply in the urinary tract. Symptoms may include cloudy or foul-smelling discharge, along with frequent urination and a burning sensation. UTIs require medical treatment with antibiotics.

Other Causes

Genital discharge can also be caused by non-infectious factors such as hormonal changes, allergic reactions, or foreign objects in the genital area. It is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Treatment for Genital Discharge

Medical Intervention

If you are experiencing abnormal genital discharge, it is crucial to seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Depending on the underlying cause, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications such as antibiotics, antifungals, or antivirals to treat the infection.

Self-Care Measures

In addition to medical intervention, there are several self-care measures that can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing:

  • Maintain good hygiene by washing the genital area with mild soap and water.
  • Avoid using scented products or douches, as they can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
  • Wear breathable cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitting clothing to allow air circulation.
  • Practice safe sex by using condoms and getting regular STI screenings.
  • Stay hydrated and maintain a healthy diet to support your immune system.


Preventing genital discharge caused by STIs or other infections is essential for maintaining sexual health. Here are some preventive measures you can take:

  • Practice safe sex by using condoms consistently and correctly.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners and choose partners who have been tested for STIs.
  • Get vaccinated against STIs such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B.
  • Attend regular check-ups and screenings with your healthcare provider.
  • Communicate openly with your partner about sexual health and STI status.

By following these preventive measures and seeking prompt medical attention for any abnormal genital discharge, you can reduce the risk of complications and promote overall sexual well-being.


Genital discharge can be a concerning symptom, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, it can be effectively managed. Whether caused by STIs, yeast infections, or other factors, seeking medical attention is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Additionally, practicing good hygiene, using protection during sexual activity, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent genital discharge and promote sexual health. Remember, early detection and treatment are key to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sex life.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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