If you are not used to seeing milky white discharge, it can be alarming.
But there are times when it can be perfectly normal.
Other times, it can indicate a reason to see a medical provider.
In this article, I’ll cover what milky white discharge can tell you and possible treatments.
I’ll also go over when you should see a doctor.
Milky White Discharge Meaning
For people with vaginas, small amounts of milky white discharge can be a sign of natural built-in processes intended to keep sexual organs healthy.
Glands in the cervix and vagina routinely produce mucus.
Vaginal and cervical mucus is typically clear.
When exposed to air, it can appear white or yellow.
Changes in hormones during a menstrual cycle or pregnancy can change the amount of mucus that is present.
People with penises may also notice milky white discharge before or during ejaculation.
This is also normal.
On the other hand, milky white discharge can sometimes be a sign of an infection.
If a person with a vagina experiences a significant increase in milky white discharge or if it has a different or foul odor, they should let their healthcare provider know.
People with penises who experience milky white discharge outside of ejaculation, like during urination or at other times, should also see their healthcare provider.
Causes of White Discharge and Possible Treatments
There are many causes of white discharge. Some of them require medical treatments.
- Yeast Infection: This is a common cause of white discharge for people with vaginas. Candida is a fungus that lives in the body but is kept in check by the immune system. After antibiotics or with other systemic imbalances, a yeast infection may occur. It can cause white discharge that appears like cottage cheese and has a fishy or strong smelling odor. Some yeast infections may be treated with antifungal medications. There are many OTC antifungal creams available for yeast infections.
- Bacterial vaginosis: Different from a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally present in the vagina. It may cause white, gray, or green discharge along with a strong odor. It may also cause burning during urination or itching. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with oral or vaginal antibiotics, which are not available OTC.
- Ovulation: The consistency of normal cervical mucus changes before ovulation. Some people with vaginas may notice watery or egg-like mucus for several days prior to or during ovulation. While this mostly looks clear, it may leave what appears to be whitish stains on underwear. As long as there is no odor or foul smell, increased discharge around the time of ovulation is normal. Not all people with vaginas experience noticeable mucus around ovulation.
- Pregnancy: Before a person has a missed period, vaginal secretions may change in response to pregnancy. Normal pregnancy discharge is known as leukorrhea. It may be clear or white. There may be a significant increase in volume. Pregnancy discharge has a mild smell. Leukorrhea typically continues throughout the entire pregnancy. It may increase in the third trimester. Unless pregnancy discharge is accompanied by other symptoms of concern, like a foul smell, itching, or is tinged a pink, red, or brown color, it does not require treatment.
- Urethritis: People with penises may experience milky white discharge, pain during urination, frequent urination, and more if they develop urethritis. This infection can be caused by viruses, bacteria, injury, or allergic reaction. It may be acquired from sexually transmitted infections. People with vaginas can also get urethritis. Treatment begins with correctly diagnosing the cause. Bacterial urethritis will be treated with antibiotics, while treatment for other causes of urethritis depends on severity of symptoms. Anyone experiencing symptoms of urethritis should see their healthcare provider.
- Chlamydia: Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. It may cause painful urination and white discharge from the penis. Antibiotics are necessary to treat chlamydia and to prevent spreading it to others.
- Gonorrhea: A sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea can cause white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis. Testicles may swell. Antibiotics are required to treat gonorrhea.
- Trichomonas: Another STI, trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. People with vaginas may notice milky white discharge, discomfort, and painful urination. People with penises may also notice some of the same symptoms, or may have none. Treatment typically involves antibiotics.
What to Pay Attention To
If you notice an increase in discharge, it’s important to be observant in case you have any other symptoms.
For people with penises, discharge is common before and during ejaculation.
Let your healthcare provider know if you notice discharge at other times or if you have other symptoms, including foul-smelling discharge, painful urination, burning during urination, swelling, or anything else abnormal.
For those with vaginas, discharge may be common all throughout a menstrual cycle.
Before ovulation, there will be more vaginal mucus.
If discharge volume suddenly increases outside of ovulation or potential pregnancy, or it has a foul-smelling odor, check in with your doctor.
If you notice other changes in your typical discharge pattern, or you have other symptoms like painful urination or vaginal itching, check in with your healthcare provider.
What Normal Vaginal Discharge Looks Like
Vaginal discharge is constantly produced from glands in the vagina and cervix.
It removes bacteria and dead cells. Noticing small amounts of discharge on a daily basis is normal.
The hormone changes involved with the menstrual cycle or pregnancy can increase the volume or change the consistency of normal vaginal discharge.
Normal vaginal discharge may be clear or white.
It may also be brown, pink, or red before or during menstruation.
The important thing to notice is if vaginal discharge suddenly changes, increases in volume, develops a foul odor, or turns yellow, green, or gray.
These are signs that vaginal discharge may not be normal.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Many times, vaginal discharge is not a cause for concern.
It may be a sign that your system is effectively cleaning itself and removing debris and old cells.
See your doctor if you notice sudden changes to vaginal discharge, especially if it changes color or develops a new smell.
If the discharge is yellow, green, gray, or has a cottage cheese-like consistency, these are more commonly signs of infection.
Your doctor can do an exam to rule out potential infections.
How K Health Can Help
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K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Vaginal itching and discharge—adult and adolescent. (2022).
Yeast infections. (2017).
Vaginal candidiasis. (2021).
Detection of ovulation, a review of currently available methods. (2017).
The cervicovaginal mucus barrier. (2020).
Chlamydia infections. (2018).
Trichomoniasis—CDC Fact Sheet. (2021).