What It Means When You Have Gray Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence and is produced by the cervix and the walls of the vagina. It is a mixture of bacteria, fluid, and cells, and its function is to clean and lubricate the vagina and help prevent infections (via the Cleveland Clinic).

According to the clinic, normal vaginal discharge is typically clear or white, and doesn't have an unpleasant or strong smell. Texture may range from thick and gooey to sticky and watery. The amount of discharge can vary depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle and can increase with sexual arousal, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Abnormal vaginal discharge can also happen. 14.5% of women reported having abnormal vaginal discharge in a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Abnormal vaginal discharge may be a sign of an infection or other underlying condition.

Abnormal discharge may be thicker or thinner than normal, have a different color or smell, or be accompanied by other symptoms such as itching or burning, says the Cleveland Clinic. So what if vaginal discharge is gray?

What does gray vaginal discharge usually mean?

One possible cause of gray vaginal discharge is bacterial vaginosis, which is a common infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, according to Healthline. Medical News Today adds that bacterial vaginosis can cause abnormal discharge that is thin, watery, gray, and has a strong fishy smell. Other symptoms may include itching, burning, and irritation in the vaginal area.

In addition to bacterial vaginosis, other possible causes of gray vaginal discharge include vaginal cancer (in rare cases) and sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia, as explained by Healthline. The bottom line is that gray vaginal discharge is typically caused by infection.

It's best to see a healthcare provider who can help determine the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment. The good news is that bacterial vaginosis can be treated with antibiotics which is successful in 90% of cases, per a 2009 article published in Informed Health.

How is gray vaginal discharge treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause of the discharge. For example, if a diagnosis determines that bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the cause, treatment usually includes antibiotics, either taken orally or applied directly to the vagina as a cream or gel (via Medical News Today). The most commonly used antibiotic for treating BV is metronidazole — other options include clindamycin and tinidazole, per the source.

Take the entire course of treatment as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if your symptoms improve, to ensure that the infection is completely cleared. In some cases, BV may recur after treatment, in which case additional treatment may be necessary, says Medical News Today. To prevent bacterial vaginosis in the future, it is important to avoid activities that can alter the balance of bacteria in the vagina, such as douching, says the source.

If a diagnosis concludes that gonorrhea is the cause, you might be treated with antibiotics, which can be taken orally or injected. The most commonly used antibiotics for treating gonorrhea are ceftriaxone and doxycycline, per Healthline.

According to the source, it's vital to avoid sexual contact until the infection has been completely treated and you've obtained a negative test result. You should also notify any sexual partners that they may have been exposed to the infection so that they can be treated as well. This can help to prevent the spread of the infection.