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Read below for some recent answers by Dr. Sally Boyd.
If you'd like to ask a question in our Questions & Answers section please email Dr. Sally and she will be pleased to answer.
I have a strange odor ‘down there’, like a fish smell, that comes and goes. I am embarrassed to have sex with my boyfriend because I don’t want him to notice. I have tried Massengil douches and they help but only for a few hours. It doesn’t hurt or anything. I had a Pap smear last month and it was normal and the Doctor didn’t say anything about noticing it. I was embarrassed to ask him about it. Is this normal?
-“Fish Called Wanda”
Well, FCW, thank you so much for having the courage to ask about this! This ‘silent’ problem has caused so many women so much shame and discomfort. Misunderstandings about normal versus pathological vaginal odors are so common that jokes about women’s supposedly bad smells (‘fish jokes’) are unfortunately part of the culture. This fear has led to sexual shame and suppression for countless women, and has damaged the male psyche and suppressed men’s ability to enjoy healthy, free and happy sexual relations as well. Healthy vaginas and vulvas have pleasant or neutral scents that can change according to where a woman is in her cycle. These scents have been likened to ‘salt water’ or ‘musky perfume’. Unfortunately, unhealthy vaginas can have sour, ‘fishy’ or strong smells due to infection.
Although I can’t be sure without an exam and lab testing, it sounds like you may have a chronic bacterial infection called ‘Bacterial Vaginosis’ (or ‘BV’) The bacteria that causes BV can be sexually transmitted, or it can exist normally in small numbers in the vagina. The vagina usually has a lower pH naturally, which helps keep BV (and candida) from growing. But stress, high sugar diets or frequent intercourse can change the vaginal pH, and this can set the stage for BV to start growin
BV can have no other symptoms than a characteristic ‘fishy’ smell, or it can have a slight, watery, frothy or greenish discharge. It can have no other symptoms or can have a vague vaginal discomfort associated with it. Sexual activity, especially involving ejaculation into the vagina without a condom, can change the women’s pH toward an alkaline state that is a great environment for this bacteria. Women with this condition may notice an increase in the smell after sexual intercourse, and this may make them reluctant to have sex. Fortunately, these infections are treatable with either antibiotics or a course of herbal suppositories and probiotics. Once the vaginal ‘flora’ is balanced a naturally pleasant smell will return. I strongly recommend a vaginal exam (including a ‘whiff test’ performed in the office) as well as a lab test (culture) to make sure this is what you have, and that you do not have any other vaginal infections as well. It is advisable to get a second exam after treatment to make sure it is gone, as infections that are only partially treated can return as soon as the vaginal pH changes again. So, Wanda, there is hope for you after all! And for all of us that have suffered through years of ‘fish’ jokes!
Hi Dr Sally!
I have a weird question. Over the last few months I have noticed that my eyebrows are falling out! They keep getting thinner and thinner from the outside in. It looks like I have plucked them but I haven’t. Do I need to worry about this? Can they disappear? My grandma had no eyebrows but I thought she had just plucked them all out.
Yes indeed this can be a warning sign of a medical condition. It is one of the many characteristics of hypothyroid disease, or low thyroid function. This can be a serious condition that can really lower your quality of life, as it also causes:
weight gain (ack!)
lowered immune function
A low body temperature (under the healthy normal of 98.6 during the daytime) can also be a sign of hypothyroid disease.
I advise you to get your thyroid function tested soon. Be sure to ask your doctor to screen you with a full thyroid panel, not just a ‘TSH’ screening test. This test is not very accurate and misses a lot of hypothyroid patients. Also ask her to test for autoimmune thyroiditis, as this is a common cause of hypothyroid disease. Naturopathic Doctors have many ways to treat autoimmune conditions, so we want to know if you have one. Fortunately hypothyroid is a very treatable condition.