Does Your Vagina Smell Like Fish? This Could Be Why

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

Going down on your partner can be a mutually pleasurable thing. However, the same cannot be said if the vulva or the vagina of your partner smells like a fish, fresh from the catch of the day. You might even vomit in the process due to the offensive odour. So, is there something ‘fishy’ going on in there?

Bacterial Vaginosis

Fishy vaginal smell is a common symptom of Bacterial Vaginosis (often abbreviated as BV). In a normal healthy vagina, the inner environment is dominated by lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus spp) which are peacefully existing bacteria that plays an important role in maintaining a healthy vaginal environment. They do this by maintaining a slightly acidic pH of the vagina which prevents the growth of other germs. Aside from that, they also produce hydrogen peroxide which kills other harmful bacteria, further preventing the overpopulation of other bacterial species. In BV, disturbance in the vaginal pH balance occurs, resulting in the rapid growth of the previously suppressed species of bacteria and a subsequent shift in the species domination. Usually, BV is caused by the domination of the bacteria Gardnerella vaginalis.

How to know if it is really Bacterial Vaginosis?

BV is one of the most common types of vaginal infection as it is estimated that it affects about 5 out of 100 women. However, at least half of the women who develop BV do not have any noticeable symptoms and therefore, do not realise that they have it. For those who do, they may notice BV in a few ways such as:

  • Infammatory symptoms – As a result of the new species domination, inflammation of the vaginal and vulval structure can occur, resulting in symptoms like itching, a burning sensation and vaginal dryness. In this case, the vagina is usually reddened and the mucous lining of the vagina is swollen. Affected women may complain of problems such as pain during urination or sex.
  • Fishy odour – This unpleasant smell is due to the volatilisation of amines produced by the anaerobic bacteria populating the vaginal cavity. The volatilisation of the amines produced increases with rising pH which explains why the odour becomes more noticeable after sex (because of semen) or during menses (because of blood)

Women with BV may also notice increased in thin, grayish-white vaginal discharge though this is not specific to BV.

If you noticed the previously mentioned changes, it is best that you go and see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis and/or to rule out other possible vaginal infections.

Is there any ‘Fishy’ business going on?

Studies have demonstrated that the risk of bacterial vaginosis is higher in women who are very sexually active and have a new partner or switch partners frequently but that isn’t to say that only those who are sexually active will develop BV. Studies have also found that even in those who have never had any sexual intercourse can also develop BV. This can attributed to excessive intimate hygiene or hormonal changes, which can cause an imbalance in the vaginal flora and make vaginosis more likely.

Am I going to die?

Of course you are, just unlikely from Bacterial Vaginosis. The infection can clear up on its own in about one third of women but for those with symptoms, treatment is imperative, with the use of antibiotics. Treatments are available in tablet form or as a suppository or cream for direct application. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to treat your partner because it has been found that it doesn’t decrease future recurrence of BV.

It is worth stressing again that treatment is imperative as there are morbidities associated with BV such as:

  • Increase in susceptibility towards other sexually-transmitted infections (HIV, Gonorrhoea)
  • Adverse pregnancy outcomes (preterm labor, preterm delivery, low birth weight, premature rupture of membranes or intra-amniotic infection)

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

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