Why Does My Period Smell So Bad? Causes and Treatment

One of the many things that periods bring along with them every month, aside from period cramps, is a funky smell. Anyone with a period will tell you that, at some point, they've caught a whiff from down there, and it doesn't exactly smell like roses. Far from it.

It's no secret that periods smell, but have you ever wondered why? Period blood contains three things — the shedding of an unfertilised egg, blood and uterine lining tissues. Taking this on board, it's usually normal for this combination to have a slight smell when it leaves the body. However, different smells can mean different things, so read on to learn more!

In a rush? Read this quick summary:

  • Having a smell alongside your period is very common and most people notice smells from time to time.
  • Period blood is made up of an unfertilised egg, blood, and uterine lining tissues. This combination can sometimes cause a slight smell when it leaves the body.
  • Different smells can mean different things, including infection, not changing your period protection often enough, or even just an iron-high diet.

What different smells could mean:

1. When your period blood smells 'rotten':

Some people report a 'rotten' smell during their period. This smell shows up when bacteria mixes with menstrual flow and could be a sign of a problem. It is usually not strong enough for other people to smell.

A rotten smell during your period is often due to accidentally leaving a tampon in the vagina for too long. If you have left a tampon in for too long, you can try to remove it by finding the string and pulling it out, otherwise, you will need medical help so a doctor can remove it.

You can try to control this 'rotten' smell by changing your period protection frequently, especially during heavy-flow days and if you wear tampons.

2. When your period blood smells 'fishy':

If you notice a "fishy" smell during menstruation, this might indicate a problem that you need to see a doctor for.

Bacterial vaginosis often causes this smell, which is a common infection that can cause periods to smell stronger than normal. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by too much bacteria in the vagina, and your chances of getting BV can be increased by things like new or multiple sex partners and douching.

If you have BV, you will probably also have other symptoms before, during, and/or after your period, including:

- Itchiness
- Irritation
- A burning sensation (especially during sex or when you pee)
- Gray or white discharge when you're not on your period

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics, and once this balances out the bacteria, you should no longer notice any unusual smells during your period.If you have any of the above symptoms or feel like you might have bacterial vaginosis, make an appointment with your GP.

3. If your period blood smells 'metallic':

Period blood can sometimes smell metallic, like a copper coin. This is usually due to the iron in the blood, and is normally not a cause for concern. However, if it continues after your period ends, it is probably a good idea to talk to your GP.

4. When your period smells sweet:

If you catch a sweet whiff coming from your period blood, don't worry too much. This is common and is normally due to the acidic environment and bacteria in your vagina.

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Can other people smell my blood?

Most of the time, although you may smell your period, it shouldn't be strong enough for anyone else to pick up on. Periods are a natural part of life, and nearly every person with a period will tell you they've had a funky smell at some point or another - so don't feel embarrassed!

However, if you notice the smell is strong or if someone else does tell you they've noticed a smell, check in with your GP to make sure there's nothing serious going on.

How can I improve the smell of my period blood?

First of all, if you're worried about the smell of your period, check in with your doctor to make sure there are no infections going on. Once you've eliminated the chances of any infection, there are many things that you can do to try and reduce the smell of your period blood.

Here are a few tips:

  • Change your period protection frequently. Depending on your flow, how often you need to change will be different, but you can experiment and see what works for you.
  • If you wear tampons, make sure you don't leave them in too long — this will stop bacteria from building up, which will help keep smells to a minimum and also stop you from getting toxic shock syndrome.
  • Making sure you keep on top of your hygiene by washing often, using a gentle bar soap around the area between your legs. The vagina itself is self cleaning, so letting the water just run over the inside is more than enough. Avoid using perfumed soaps or body washes — the scents and chemicals may upset your vagina’s natural pH.

Christine Greves, a gynaecologist in Florida, tells Health that our vaginas are home to many bacteria, and when the bacteria mixes with blood, it produces an odour. Simple.

“When you cut your finger, you wipe the blood off right away, and it’s fresh blood, meaning it hasn’t been sitting around for awhile,” Dr. Greves says. “But period blood stays in the vagina for a longer period of time. It’s exposed to the bacteria in the vagina, and that’s where you get that odour.”

So remember, a little funky smell here or there when you're on your period is nothing to be ashamed of and you're probably the only one who can smell it. But remember, as always, if you're worried about the smell or think something more might be going on, it never hurts to call your doctor!

Our top tip for an odour-free period

Go for breathable underwear that is moisture-wicking, allowing the area to breathe and stay cool. Switching from pads and tampons to our breathable period underwear will also give you longer-lasting protection, as they absorb your menstrual flow whilst keeping you dry all day long.

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