Although a slight vaginal odor is typical during menstruation, there are times when the smell of your period can be abnormal or unpleasant. To help you understand period smells and how to deal with them, we spoke with Dr. Shonda Corbett, MD, FACOG, Obstetrician-Gynecologist at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, about why your period blood smells bad and ways to remedy the situation.
According to Dr. Corbett, a slight smell during menstrual periods is usually not a cause for concern. "As the natural vaginal bacteria mixes with the blood in the vagina, it may alter the smell," she tells Today's Parent. "Periods can also have a slight metallic odour from the iron in the blood."
However, Dr. Corbett adds that other factors can also impact the scent of your period. "These include your diet, physical activity, clothing, how often you change your feminine products, and intercourse," she says.
Although it's typical for menstrual periods to produce a slight odour, Dr. Corbett warns that there are instances when period blood can have an unhealthy smell. "A sign of an unhealthy period odor would include a very strong odor, especially with a fishy smell," says Dr. Corbett.
"This could indicate a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis bv." Dr. Corbett also suggests a strong foul smell may occur if tampons and pads are not changed frequently or if a tampon is left in too long. "This can cause an overgrowth of bacteria, which, in return, creates a foul odor," she adds.
Dr. Corbett recommends practicing good feminine hygiene to decrease odor related to your menstrual period. "Good hygiene includes showering and cleaning with mild unscented soaps and changing tampons and pads regularly every few hours," she explains. "If a strong foul odor persists, consult a gynecologist for further evaluation."
Changing your underwear can also help prevent period blood from smelling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing breathable and comfortable cotton underwear during your menstrual cycle because tighter clothing can retain heat and moisture.
Despite their ability to make periods more manageable, pads and tampons can cause odors if not changed, according to Dr. Corbett. The CDC recommends changing tampons every four to eight hours and pads every few hours, depending on your flow. If you use a menstrual cup, the CDC recommends cleaning them after your period by rinsing them thoroughly and placing them in boiling water for one to two minutes.
According to the CDC, practicing good hygiene is crucial in reducing the risk of infection and preventing vaginal odours. Keep your genital area clean, wash your hands frequently, and change your pad or tampon every few hours. However, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln advises against over-washing the vaginal area and using scented products to eliminate vaginal odors as they can exacerbate the issue.
If you're thinking about douching or using scented products during your period to reduce unusual vaginal odours, you might want to reconsider. Dr. Corbett says they can increase your risk for discomfort and infection and make odors worse.
"Feminine douches and scented deodorant products are not recommended because they can alter the natural bacteria in the vagina, which can lead to infections and irritation," she explains.
It's normal to have some vaginal odour during your period. However, if you experience burning, itching, or pain along with it, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln advises consulting with a gynecologist or primary physician for further evaluation.
These symptoms can potentially be indicative of a yeast infection, bacterial vaginitis (BV), or trichomoniasis, a type of sexually transmitted disease, and require further evaluation from a medical professional.
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