Most females experience sticky vaginal discharge at some point. It is not usually a cause for concern, but in some instances, sticky discharge can signal an underlying issue.
Sticky discharge is the body’s way of keeping germs and infection away from the vagina and vulva. The discharge usually contains bacteria and dead cells.
People sometimes believe they are the only ones who experience sticky discharge. In reality, most females of reproductive age experience it as a normal part of their menstrual cycle.
Normal discharge is typically clear or white in color, with no strong or foul smell. If the color, consistency, or smell is unusual, it may indicate an issue, such as infection.
Causes of sticky vaginal discharge may be noninfectious or infectious.
Noninfectious triggers include:
- a birth control implant
- foreign bodies, such as a tampon
- noninfectious conditions, such as vulvar dermatitis
- allergic reaction
Infectious causes may be transmitted sexually or nonsexually.
Sexually transmitted infectious triggers for sticky discharge include:
Nonsexual transmitted infectious causes include:
- yeast infections
- bacterial vaginosis
1. Menstrual Cycle
The appearance of vaginal discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Features, such as color, may vary slightly depending on the individual and how long the discharge has been in a person’s underwear.
Discharge often does not appear during the week after a period ends. If discharge occurs, the normal consistency may be thicker than usual.
After the first week, as the middle of the menstrual cycle approaches, discharge appears more frequently, as a clear, thin mucus.
When a person enters menopause, discharge stops appearing as frequently. This is because the vagina stops producing as much antibacterial mucus.
2. Birth Control Implant
A birth control implant is a small rod that a healthcare professional places in the upper arm. It can help prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years.
Getting the implant can cause side effects, one of which is brown discharge. The smell of the discharge varies between people, while the color is because it contains old blood. The brown discharge typically appears over the first 6–12 months as the body adjusts to the implant.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that passes between people via the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.
Sticky discharge is the main symptom, which has a yellow or green color and a frothy consistency. The smell may be unpleasant. Trichomoniasis can cause itchiness and irritation around the vagina, while it can make urinating painful.
A person can treat trichomoniasis with a single dose of an antibiotic such as metronidazole or tinidazole.
4. Vulvovaginal Candidiasis
Vulvovaginal candidiasis, also called thrush, is a yeast infection that affects 75% of females of reproductive age.
This infection causes a thick white discharge that resembles curd or cottage cheese. A person may also experience an itchy rash and a burning feeling around the vagina and vulva.
Treatment options include creams that contain antifungal drugs, including:
In more severe cases, a healthcare professional may recommend an oral antifungal medication.
5. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common infectious trigger of vaginal discharge.
It occurs when the balance of bacteria in the vagina changes. As acidic bacteria decrease, it causes a rise in problematic bacteria. The infection may come from sexual or nonsexual transmission.
Bacterial vaginosis causes vaginal discharge that appears white or clear, as with normal discharge, but has an unpleasant, fishy smell.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest treating bacterial vaginosis with the antibiotics metronidazole or clindamycin. A doctor may prescribe metronidazole in oral form or as a gel, or clindamycin as a cream.
When to Speak with a Doctor
A person should speak with a doctor if they have concerns about their discharge.
Some signs of unusual discharge include:
- a fishy smell
- a pink or brown color
- appearing green color with an unpleasant smell
- a particularly white, thick consistency
- an excessive amount
If a person experiences other symptoms alongside unusual discharge, such as warts or ulcers, they should also consult with a healthcare professional. The underlying cause may require medical attention.