Smelly or otherwise unusual discharge may indicate an infection or another underlying health issue. “Discharge” refers to any fluid that drains from the body.

Many types of discharge are healthy and show that the body is working as it should.

In this article, we describe the various kinds of smelly discharge. We also look into the causes and when to see a doctor.

A woman washes her hands after experiencing a smelly discharge.Share on Pinterest
Different parts of the body can produce smelly discharge, which often signals an infection.

Different parts of the body produce different kinds of discharge, including:

Vaginal discharge

Some vaginal discharge is normal and healthy, and it is there to protect the vagina. Healthy vaginal discharge is usually clear or white and does not have a strong odor.

Changes in the color, odor, or consistency of vaginal discharge can sometimes indicate a problem.

Some changes that may point to a health issue include:

  • an increased quantity of discharge
  • green or yellow discharge
  • watery or foamy discharge
  • discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese
  • discharge with a strong odor of fish or eggs

It is especially important to seek medical care if there are also blisters, sores, pain, or bleeding from the vagina.

Learn more about the different colors of vaginal discharge.

Penile discharge

Any fluid coming from the penis that is not semen or urine may be a sign of an infection or another health issue.

Discharge from the penis may be:

  • colorless or cloudy
  • white, yellow, or green
  • thick or watery
  • similar in consistency to cottage cheese

In some cases, penile discharge may occur with one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a frequent need to urinate
  • pain or a burning feeling when urinating
  • soreness in the tip of the penis
  • pain in the testicles, anus, belly, or lower back

Discharge from the anus

Any substance that comes from the anus besides stool is called anal discharge. Examples include mucus, pus, or blood.

Discharge from wounds

Wounds that have become infected with bacteria may produce smelly discharge.

Smelly sweat

The skin contains two types of sweat gland: eccrine and apocrine. The body has more eccrine glands, and their discharge does not smell.

Apocrine glands are located in the armpits and genital area. They produce a thicker fluid that reacts with bacteria on the skin to produce the typical body odor smell.

Below are some causes of smelly discharge in different areas of the body.

Sexually transmitted infections

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) produce unusual discharge from the genitals.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat STIs that are bacterial or parasitic and antiviral medications for STIs caused by viruses.

Some examples of STIs that can cause smelly discharge include:


Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection.

Males with gonorrhea may notice white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis. Other possible symptoms include:

Most females with gonorrhea experience no symptoms, though they may notice increased vaginal discharge. If other symptoms do occur, they may include:


Chlamydia is another sexually transmitted bacterial infection. The majority of chlamydia infections do not cause any symptoms.

Males who do develop symptoms may have:

  • discharge from the penis
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • a burning feeling or itchiness around the opening of the penis

Females who develop chlamydia symptoms may have:

  • unusual vaginal discharge with a strong odor
  • discomfort when urinating or having sex
  • genital itching or irritation
  • abdominal pain

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a type of sexually transmitted viral infection. Most people who acquire it develop no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • smelly discharge from the genitals
  • blisters around the genitals, anus, or mouth that may burst and become painful sores
  • a burning sensation when urinating

Females with genital herpes may also experience bleeding between periods.


Trichomoniasis is a type of parasitic STI. The parasite responsible is a single-celled microorganism called Trichomonas vaginalis. Around 70% of people with trichomoniasis develop no symptoms.

Males who do develop symptoms may experience:

  • discharge from the penis
  • itchiness or irritation inside the penis
  • a burning sensation following urination or ejaculation

Females with trichomoniasis may experience:

  • changes to vaginal discharge
  • itching, burning, or soreness of the genitals
  • redness of the skin on and around the genitals
  • discomfort during urination

Smegma and balanitis

Smegma is a naturally occurring substance that helps lubricate the skin of the penis. Without daily washing, smegma can build up on the foreskin and head of the penis, causing an unpleasant odor.

Also, smegma can harbor bacteria and fungi, resulting in an infection. This can cause inflammation of the head of the penis, which doctors call balanitis.

Depending on the exact cause of balanitis, some treatments include:

  • antibiotics
  • antifungal creams or ointments
  • a mild steroid cream or ointment


Thrush is a common fungal infection. In most cases, it results from an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. This yeast ordinarily lives harmlessly on and inside the body, but certain factors can cause it to multiply out of control.

Some people who develop thrush experience no symptoms. If symptoms do develop in females, they may include:

  • typically odorless vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese
  • vaginal itchiness and irritation
  • soreness and stinging during sex or urination

Possible symptoms of thrush in males include:

  • possibly smelly penile discharge that resembles cottage cheese
  • a tight foreskin, or one that is otherwise difficult to pull back
  • irritation, burning, and redness beneath the foreskin and around the head of the penis

A person can treat thrush using over-the-counter or prescription antifungal medication.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition among females of reproductive age. It results from an imbalance in the numbers of harmful and helpful bacteria in the vagina.

Females with BV may have unusual vaginal discharge, which may be white or gray and watery or frothy. The discharge can sometimes have an unpleasant, fishy odor.

Other possible symptoms of BV include:

  • vaginal irritation
  • itchiness of the skin around the vagina
  • a burning sensation when urinating

A doctor usually prescribes a course of antibiotics to treat BV.

Foreign object in the vagina

A forgotten tampon or another foreign object inside the vagina can produce a bad, rotting smell.

If the object is not fragile, and there are no other symptoms, a person can remove it themselves. Otherwise, a doctor should.

It is important to remove the object as soon as possible. Otherwise, toxic shock syndrome can develop. This involves bacteria releasing toxins into the body, and without prompt treatment, it can be fatal.

Anal fistula

Smelly discharge from the area of the anus may result from an anal fistula. This is a small channel that has formed between the end of the bowel and the skin near the anus.

Other possible symptoms of an anal fistula include:

  • constant throbbing pain in the anus
  • swelling or redness around the anus
  • stool that contains pus or blood
  • difficulty controlling bowel movements

Doctors usually recommend surgery to treat an anal fistula.


Trimethylaminuria is an inherited condition that produces an odor of rotting fish.

People with trimethylaminuria are unable to break down a strong-smelling compound called trimethylamine. As a result, the body releases trimethylamine in sweat, urine, genital discharge, and breath.

Although there is no cure, lifestyle modifications can help control the smell. A person may, for example, avoid certain foods that can increase fishy body odors, such as:

  • seafood and shellfish
  • liver and kidney
  • eggs
  • cow’s milk
  • beans
  • peanuts
  • supplements containing lecithin

Anyone with unusual or smelly discharge — from any part of the body —should see a doctor.

The cause is often an infection. Depending on the type, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antifungal medications, or antiviral medications.

If the infection is sexually transmitted, the person’s sexual partners may also need treatment.

Smelly discharge can come from various parts of the body, and it is usually a sign of an infection.

Anyone with unusual or smelly discharge should see a doctor, who will diagnose the issue and recommend treatment.

The right approach depends on the cause of the discharge. Infections that lead to smelly discharge are often treatable or manageable with medication.