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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Amanda Olson,DPT, PRPC
Vaginal odor is perfectly normal. It is unique for each woman and it can change according to the time of the month. Onion-smelling odor can be common too, and usually treatable with some simple lifestyle changes.
However, if the onion odor becomes intensely strong and is accompanied by burning, itching, or an unusually colored discharge, it’s time to consult with a doctor about treatment.
Read on to learn more about some of the most common causes of onion-smelling vaginal odor and what can help to rectify it.
Sweating is a natural response to cool the body when it's hot, but it can also cause body odor similar to onion if left unchecked. Very hot days, working out, or hot flushes during menopause can especially intensify vaginal odor.
When sweat is released from the pores around your vagina and mixes with fluids like urine and vaginal discharge, it results in an alteration to the natural scent of the intimate areas.
You can’t stop sweating but you can reduce unpleasant odors by changing clothes and underwear more frequently. Wearing breathable cotton underwear can help wick away vaginal odors too. And it is also recommended to avoid wearing workout wear multiple times without washing.
Although your vagina is naturally designed to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria to avoid irritation or infection, it also requires your daily hygienic care.
Wearing the same underwear for more than one day or skipping a shower or daily wash, can significantly contribute to vaginal odors. In addition, poor vaginal hygiene can encourage bad bacteria to flourish, resulting in an infection.
Maintaining good vaginal hygiene can be as simple as washing the area daily with warm water and unscented soap to remove dead skin and dried sweat. Additionally, if sweating is causing an unpleasant vaginal odor, try to avoid wearing tight clothes to allow for more air circulation around the vagina.
Just as the odor of onion can linger in the mouth, it can linger in the vagina too. After eating onion, its strong scent can be emitted via urine, sweat, or vaginal discharge.
Garlic, asparagus, curry, and other spicy foods are also well-known foods that can change the smell of your vagina.
If a lingering food smell is the cause of a vaginal odor, the good news is, it should go away naturally within 48 hours. Drinking lots of water will help flush the scent.
While it might not happen often, tampons can get forgotten, sometimes for up to a few days. When it does happen, the smell can be as pungent as a rotting onion.
If the tampon was forgotten for a few hours, it can be removed at home and the vagina should be washed with warm water and unscented soap.
If the tampon has been in the vagina for more than two days, it is best to visit a doctor. Forgotten tampons can disintegrate as they are removed and a doctor should ensure that nothing has been left behind. It is also safer to check with a doctor in case an infection has set in or if antibiotics are needed.
If forgetting tampons becomes a regular habit, it might be better to set an alarm when it's time for them to be removed.
As previously mentioned, the vagina is naturally designed to maintain a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. Sometimes, however, an imbalance will occur and result in an overgrowth of bad bacteria. This imbalance causes an infection known as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).
BV is most prevalent in women aged 15-44 and is generally associated with the reproductive years. Symptoms include an unpleasant fishy smell, a thick gray vaginal discharge, itching, and a burning sensation when urinating.
Make an appointment to see your doctor. BV usually requires antibiotic treatment to restore the bacterial balance in the vagina. And taking a probiotic, like Flora Bloom Feminine Probiotic for BV from Intimate Rose, will not only help replace the good bacteria while taking antibiotics, it will also help prevent recurring BV infections.
It is important to note that the vaginal odor may worsen temporarily with the intake of antibiotics, however, once the course is finished, the odor and the infection should disappear.
A strong-smelling vaginal odor, which could be likened to onion, accompanied by a thick yellow discharge can generally indicate a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) like Trichomoniasis, Gonorrhea, or Chlamydia.
Symptoms may also include vaginal itching and discomfort during urination.
Should any of the above symptoms present themselves, it is always advisable to contact a doctor immediately for treatment. Once the course of medication prescribed is completed, the infection will disappear.
It is worth noting that an imbalance of vaginal bacteria can significantly increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. However, a regular probiotic supplement will help maintain the healthy bacterial balance in the body and is considered significantly useful in preventing STIs.
Smelling onions from the vaginal area could also indicate a condition known as Rectovaginal Fistula (RVF), where an abnormal opening has occurred between the rectum and the vagina.
RVFs are considered rare occurrences and generally the result of childbirth, Crohn’s disease, or an inflamed bowel.
Depending on the size of the opening, the condition can cause bowel contents to leak from the lower intestine into the vagina, resulting in a foul odor similar to onions. Gas or stool may exit from the vagina instead of the rectum. If left untreated, an infection could take hold, resulting in a fever, itching, and a burning sensation when urinating.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your health provider. Treatment typically includes anti-inflammatories to reduce sensitivity and antibiotics for infection. Once the infection is cleared, surgery is typically required to mend the opening.
Certain remedies or lifestyle changes, such as improved hygiene, changing underwear & workout wear regularly, wearing loose clothing, or washing frequently can help eliminate mild onion-smelling vaginal odor.
However, if the smell becomes intense and is accompanied by an unusually colored discharge, a fever, itching, burning, or bowel contents in the vagina, it is time to seek medical attention.
Mayo Clinic - Vaginal odor -
Mayo Clinic - Bacterial vaginosis - mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279
Center for Disease Control & Prevention – Trichomoniasis - cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm
Teresa H, Debeche Adams, & Jaime K Bohl - Rectovaginal fistulas -ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2967329/