Vaginal discharge is a fickle thing. It’s pretty normal for the texture, color, and quantity of it to vary slightly from time to time, but sometimes those changes can be your vagina’s way of sounding the alarm. There are some telltale signs that you might be dealing with a vaginal infection, and one of those signs is abnormal discharge.
If you’ve noticed frothy vaginal discharge, it’s a good idea to call your healthcare provider. But why is it there in the first place? What does frothy discharge mean? Keep scrolling to learn more.
Is frothy discharge normal?
The short answer is no. Healthy vaginal discharge exists in a spectrum, so what is normal for you will probably be different from what’s normal for your friend, sister, partner, etc. After all, no two vaginal microbiomes are the same, so “normal” vaginal discharge can look different from person to person. Having said that, healthy vaginal discharge shouldn’t be frothy. Normal discharge should look clear or white and have a creamy, milky, or stretchy consistency.
If you’re not on a form of hormonal birth control, the look and smell of your vaginal discharge changes throughout the month in response to the normal hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. Tracking your discharge and getting accustomed to what “normal” looks for your body can help you spot something wrong. In general, some warning signs to look out for are:
- A drastic change in color or consistency that is unusual for you.
- A sudden bad smell. Note: it’s normal for discharge to have a mild smell, but you shouldn’t ignore a really noticeable or foul odor.
- An unusually large amount of discharge. If you’re not on hormonal birth control, it’s normal to have more discharge mid-cycle, around the time of ovulation.
- Other symptoms, such as a burning sensation, vaginal irritation.
- Pelvic pain.
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex.
Several vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause these symptoms, so it's really important to call your healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis.
What does frothy discharge look like?
Frothy discharge looks like a thin or thick fluid with lots of tiny air bubbles — like soap suds, but definitely less pleasant.
Types of frothy discharge
- Green frothy discharge
- Yellow frothy discharge
- White frothy discharge
- Gray frothy discharge.
Regardless of the color, frothy vaginal discharge is a sign of an infection — especially if it has a foul or fishy odor.
What causes frothy discharge?
Foamy discharge is a common symptom of trichomoniasis, a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Trichomoniasis, or “trich” for short, happens when a tiny parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) enters your reproductive tract and disrupts the natural balance of your vaginal pH, causing an infection. You can contract trich through sexual contact or by coming into contact with sexual fluids (like when sharing sex toys).
Trichomoniasis is an incredibly common sexually transmitted infection and can affect anyone who is sexually active. Like most STIs, it doesn’t usually cause symptoms, and around 70% of people with trichomoniasis don't experience any signs or symptoms at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
When symptomatic, however, it’s characterized by a frothy yellowish-green discharge with a foul or fishy odor and a pH above 4.5.
Aside from abnormal vaginal discharge, trichomoniasis symptoms might include:
- vaginal itching or irritation
- pain or burning when peeing
- the frequent need to pee
- spotting or bleeding between periods
- pain during sex.
See your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms or take an STI test. Remember that trichomoniasis tests aren't always included in routine STI panels, so you may need to request it specifically. You can also opt for an at-home STI test to screen for trichomoniasis, such as Evvy’s Expanded PCR Panel and Vaginal Health Test. Testing for trichomoniasis at home involves taking a simple vaginal swab and then sending the results to a lab to get analyzed (much like with an in-clinic test) without an in-person doctor’s visit.
If your test results come back positive, don’t panic! Trichomoniasis is easily treated with antibiotics, and the infection should clear up within a week with correct treatment. Sexual partners should be treated too to prevent the further spread of the infection (and to prevent getting the infection again after treatment).
FAQs about Frothy Discharge
What does white frothy discharge mean?
White frothy discharge is most likely a symptom of trichomoniasis, a very common STI caused by a tiny parasite. Trichomoniasis discharge is foamy and can also be gray or greenish. You should see your healthcare provider if you have white frothy discharge.
Does BV cause frothy discharge?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) doesn’t usually cause frothy discharge. BV typically causes thin, watery gray discharge that is fishy or foul-smelling.
Is chlamydia discharge frothy?
One of the main symptoms of chlamydia is yellow or white, thick, or milky discharge with a strong, unpleasant odor. Chlamydia discharge doesn’t usually have a foamy consistency, but sometimes it might look clumpy and similar to a yeast infection.