Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Ammonia?

Women’s vaginas have a natural odor, but if it smells like ammonia, it could indicate that something is wrong. Luckily, many causes of this odor are fairly harmless and can be treated with a few simple lifestyle changes.

The smell of ammonia in the vulva can be caused by bacterial vaginosis, as well as from urine that mixes with bacteria down there. It can also be caused by dietary factors such as eating strong-smelling foods like onions and garlic.

Dehydration

The vagina contains a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria that creates an acidic pH. When this balance is disturbed, it can lead to an overabundance of harmful bacteria and an infection called bacterial vaginosis. Many women who suffer from bacterial vaginosis report smelling something fishy or chemical-like, similar to ammonia. Sweat is released by the body through eccrine glands that are located all over the skin, and through apocrine glands located in parts of the body with hair follicles, like the armpits and groin. Sweat from the apocrine glands is odorless, but when it mixes with certain bacteria found around the genital area, it can cause a foul, ammonia-like smell.

Oftentimes, a vaginal odor like ammonia is due to dietary changes or dehydration. During pregnancy, a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein can result in concentrated urine that produces this distinctive odor.

It’s also possible that the odor is caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a vaginal yeast infection called thrush. Both of these conditions can cause itching, burning and changes in the consistency of vaginal discharge. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor right away. A UTI or thrush left untreated can lead to complications, including miscarriage in pregnancy. If you are experiencing a severe case of thrush, your doctor may prescribe anti-fungal medicine.

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Bacterial Vaginosis

The delicate balance of good bacteria in the vagina can get thrown off by infections and pregnancy complications. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of these issues that can cause the vagina to smell like ammonia.

The strong smell is due to ammonia byproducts in the urine, which combines with the natural odor of the vaginal tissue. In many cases, BV isn’t a big deal and can be fixed with simple hygienic changes and lifestyle adjustments. However, if the odor persists and BV isn’t causing discomfort, it may be time to see your doctor.

A Forgotten or Stuck Tampon

Yeast infections aren’t usually very smelly, but occasionally the thick cottage cheese-like discharge that comes with these infections has a skunk-like odor similar to ammonia. It’s also possible to develop an ammonia-like odor if you have a rectal tear or ruptured diaphragm, as these can lead to the leakage of concentrated urine.

Another reason for a foul-smelling vagina is excessive sweating. Sweat is produced by the body’s eccrine glands and apocrine glands located in areas with hair follicles, such as the underarms and groin. When the genital area produces too much sweat, it can mix with other natural or synthetic materials, such as cotton underwear and shapewear, to produce a strong skunk-like odor. Limiting the amount of clothing that you wear can help prevent this symptom, as well as washing your groin with warm water and unscented soap.

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Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

A strong, ammonia-like odor around the vagina can be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI). Urine contains bacteria that break down proteins and produce waste. When the urine becomes concentrated—such as when you’re dehydrated or sweaty from a workout—the bacteria become more powerful and can produce an ammonia-like smell. If you’re battling a UTI, drinking more water might help dilute the concentration and odor. You can also try consuming probiotics to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in the bladder.

In addition to bacterial vaginosis, other things that can cause the vagina to smell like ammonia include:

BV (boiling vaginal discharge), menstrual blood, and certain medications can all change the pH level of the vagina. Douching and using a diaphragm can further throw the pH out of balance. If the smell is accompanied by itching or burning down there, you should talk to your doctor about it. They may prescribe antibiotics to treat the underlying condition.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Women who are sexually active can develop a vaginal odor like ammonia as a result of STIs, such as chlamydia. The reason STIs cause this symptom is that they disrupt the natural balance of good bacteria in the vulva.

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If you’re a woman who experiences a vaginal odor like ammonia, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They’ll determine the cause and recommend treatment if needed.

A strong ammonia odor can also indicate dehydration, because waste materials become more concentrated when you don’t drink enough water. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding irritants, like perfumed body washes, can help to resolve this issue.

The delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in your vagina is important for a healthy urinary tract, and any disruption to this balance can lead to an infection called bacterial vaginosis. The CDC reports that this is the most common type of vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44. Many women who have BV report that they smell fishy, but others note a more chemical odor, similar to ammonia.

Douching and using a diaphragm can also interfere with the natural pH balance of the vulva, increasing your risk of developing an infection. You can reduce your risk of BV and UTIs by wearing loose, comfortable clothing, washing the vulva with unscented soap and warm water, and by not douching or using a diaphragm. Additionally, you should always wear condoms during sex to reduce your risk of STIs and other infections.

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