What Causes Watery Discharge and Why Does it Happen?

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 28, 2022

Vaginal discharge is normal and healthy, but changes to vaginal discharge are a common cause of concern.

Discharge is generally your body’s way of getting rid of dead cells in the vagina and preventing harmful bacteria from traveling up the uterus.

But it is important to pay attention to any changes to your discharge, including its color and smell, as these can be indicators that something is wrong.

In this article, I’ll discuss the common reasons for watery discharge, as well as more serious causes of vaginal discharge and their symptoms.

I’ll explain possible treatments and home remedies.

Finally, I’ll tell you when you should see a doctor.

Why Am I Getting Watery Discharge That Feels Like I Peed Myself?

The volume of normal vaginal discharge differs among people with vaginas.

Usually, a thin, clear, or milky discharge is seen as healthy, as long as it does not have an unpleasant smell. 

Vaginal discharge comes in different colors, odors, and textures.

The difference in vaginal discharge depends on the time in your menstrual cycle or the presence of an infection.

For example, discharge tends to be thicker around the menstrual period. 

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Causes of watery discharge

Vaginal discharge can start one year before a person with a vagina starts their period.

It will then continue throughout their reproductive years.

During these reproductive years, people with a vagina produce about 1-4 mL of discharge daily.

Watery discharge can have different causes.

  • Ovulation period: This is the part of the menstrual cycle when you release an egg from your ovary. Around this period, vaginal discharge increases and becomes more noticeable. In addition, it will be thinner, clear, and stretchy due to the increase in estrogen levels in the body. This is the most fertile period for people with a vagina.
  • Hormonal imbalance: Hormonal imbalance occurs when the endocrine system produces too little or too much of a particular hormone in your bloodstream. Whether caused by stress, diet, or a health issue like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hormonal imbalance can result in side effects like watery vaginal discharge. However, not all people with PCOS will have excess vaginal discharge.
  • Pregnancy: Watery vaginal discharge during pregnancy is a normal part of the experience. As you get closer to your due date, you may notice that the discharge becomes heavier. This is a sign that your body is preparing for labor. Along with increased discharge, you may observe streaks of pink mucus, called a “show.” Watery vaginal discharge is different from your water breaking, which is your amniotic fluid leaking. Amniotic fluid is pale and straw-colored compared to the thin and clear nature of vaginal discharge.
  • Hormonal contraceptives: Hormonal contraceptives are common methods of birth control. They work by increasing the estrogen and progesterone level in the bloodstream. There are different forms of hormonal contraceptives, including birth control pills, contraceptive skin patches, vaginal rings, and hormone-releasing intrauterine devices (IUDs). Whichever form you use, you might experience changes in your vaginal discharge. While some people experience less vaginal discharge, others may experience a consistent increased vaginal discharge throughout the menstrual cycle.
  • Foreign object: Foreign objects such as tampons or condoms may cause abnormal discharge if left in the vagina for an extended period. See a doctor if this happens to you.
  • Douching: Douching is the washing or cleaning of the inside of the vagina with a mixture of water and other substances such as vinegar, iodine, and baking soda. Douching can cause a change in the normal microflora of the vagina. The microflora is the collection of bacteria and microbes living in the vagina. Changing this microflora can lead to changes in vaginal discharge caused by a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you already have an infection, douching can cause the harmful bacteria to travel further into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, resulting in a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Menopause: Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), also known as vaginal atrophy, occurs in about 50% of people in the postmenopausal phase. It is associated with decreased levels of estrogen, which causes symptoms such as vaginal dryness, bleeding after sex, irritation, and soreness. It can also cause thin yellow or grey watery discharge.
  • Sexual arousal: During sexual arousal and sexual activity, the Bartholin glands inside the vagina produce fluid that lubricates the vagina. You may notice increased watery discharge during arousal or sexual activity.

Serious Causes and Symptoms

Watery vaginal discharge is usually harmless, but if you notice a change in the amount or consistency of discharge, it may be caused by an infection or combination of infections.

The telltale signs are the color of the discharge and the associated symptoms.

Some of the serious causes of watery vaginal discharge include: 

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can all cause changes in your vaginal discharge. Other symptoms may include a burning sensation, itching, pain during urination, unpleasant odor, rashes or sores in the vagina, and abnormal bleeding. Untreated STDs can cause infertility problems, increase the risk of cervical cancer, and increase the chances of getting HIV if you’re exposed to it.
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV): The normal bacterial flora of the vagina, also referred to as vaginal flora, is dominated by lactobacillus species. When the vaginal flora is altered, it leads to bacterial vaginosis, where a type of bacteria called Gardnerella vaginalis and other anaerobic organisms dominate the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis makes you more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, and HIV. Some common symptoms of BV include vaginal discharge with fishy odor and vaginal irritation, although some people may not experience any symptoms.
  • Vaginal yeast infection: Vaginal yeast infection, also called vaginal candidiasis or yeast vaginitis, is a fungal infection caused majorly by candida albicans. This fungus is usually a part of the normal microflora of the vagina, but when it overgrows, it causes an infection. Signs and symptoms of the infection include irritation and severe itchiness of the vagina and vulva, burning sensation while urinating or during sexual intercourse, vaginal rash, pain, and soreness. It also commonly causes a thick, white and odor-free discharge with a cottage cheese appearance (or, less commonly, a watery vaginal discharge).  

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, reach out to your healthcare provider to figure out the next best steps in terms of testing and treatment.

Possible Treatments and Home Remedies

Watery vaginal discharge might not indicate an infection, but it can be uncomfortable wearing wet underwear all day.

Depending on the cause of the watery vaginal discharge, there are steps you can take to avoid worsening the situation and help with the discomfort:

  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Avoid tight-fitting pantyhose
  • Change underwear 1-2 times daily
  • Avoid scented tampons and pads
  • Wear a panty liner
  • Avoid hot tubs and baths
  • Avoid vaginal douching because it alters the vaginal flora
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics

These recommendations will help manage healthy watery discharge and prevent some illnesses that can cause new watery discharge.

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When to See a Medical Provider

Watery vaginal discharge is rarely harmful, but sometimes it can be a symptom of a serious infection.

You cannot correctly self-diagnose, and may need to visit a doctor for an examination. 

Before the physical examination, your doctor might ask you some questions like:

  • When was your last period?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • Are you on any medications?
  • Have you used any feminine hygiene products recently?
  • Do you feel any pain in your pelvis, back, or abdomen?
  • What does the discharge look and smell like?

After the questions, the doctor might take a sample of the discharge to test for infection, and recommend treatment if necessary.

How K Health Can Help

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.

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