There are all kinds of television commercials and magazine ads talking up the importance of pH levels in keeping sweaty pits under control; but armpits aside, pH balance is crucial in vaginal health, as well. It is a precarious thing, whether you realize it or not, as vaginal pH can cause a number of issues that may ultimately put your reproductive health at risk.
The Magic Numbers
Vaginal pH refers to the level of acidity in the vagina. Normal vaginal pH levels range from 3.5 to 4.5, acidity levels that provide picture-perfect conditions for the proper maintenance of good bacteria (lactobacilli) and discourage an overgrowth of the harmful bacteria that can lead to vaginal odor, irritation, and even certain types of infection.
Acidity levels above 4.5 make the vagina a hotbed of risk for infection, giving harmful bacteria room to grow and flourish. In more extreme cases, too much bad bacteria leads to bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is the most common cause for abnormal vaginal discharge. BV increases a woman’s risk for many more serious issues such as preterm delivery, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and post-hysterectomy infection, as well as increasing the likelihood of contracting STD’s.
High on Acid?
There are a number of factors that may cause a healthy vaginal pH to tip into unhealthy territory, including:
- Menstrual cycles- Because the normal pH of blood is 7.4, vaginal pH naturally becomes elevated during menstruation.
- Tampons- Tampons retain and trap the bodily fluids that cause pH levels to increase, which can increase the risk of spiking vaginal pH to dangerous levels.
- Sexual activity- Semen has a pH level from 7.1 to 8.
- Vaginal douching and use of harsh or abrasive cleansers- Introducing water or other fluids into the vagina can increase vaginal pH levels. Fragrances, perfumes, and abrasive cleansers can also cause irritation to the vagina.
- Menopause or pregnancy- Hormonal fluctuations during these life events can often lead to elevated pH levels.
A few easy ways to maintain the pH levels necessary to a healthy vagina include:
- The use of probiotics to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria
- Maintaining proper hygiene
- Safe sexual practices
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing that allows breathability and discourages the accumulation of moisture in the vagina
- Regularly seeing a urogynecology expert to keep tabs on your overall genital health
If you have noticed a strange odor, experience irritation, or have an abnormal discharge, seek the care of a medical expert to determine the cause and help you find the most effective treatments to relieve your symptoms and get your pH levels back in balance.
Great vaginal health is a balancing act you need to master! Consult with the knowledgeable team of women’s healthcare experts at Coyle Institute to learn more about vaginal pH today!