New feminine hygiene products have recently brought attention to the issue of maintaining pH in the vagina, but what’s all the fuss about if vaginal pH goes up or down?
pH measures the level of acidity on a scale of 0 – 14, with 7 being neutral. Typical vaginal pH is 3.5 to 4.5 – which is on the acidic side. The pH of the vagina remains in balance due to good bacteria produced by your body. The natural acidic pH of the vagina helps to prevent conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections and yeast infections.
During a woman’s period, the pH inside the vagina becomes elevated by menstrual fluids, which contain blood that has a higher pH. Other activities such as washing with soap, douching or having sex can also alter pH.
Tampons absorb menstrual fluid, potentially contributing to even higher pH levels in the vagina since the menstrual fluid is in contact with vaginal tissues for an extended time. Tampon alternatives such as menstrual cups that collect menstrual fluid under the cervix can help keep the vagina closer to normal pH levels, as they do not elevate or promote the growth of bacteria or yeast.
At some point in their lives, most women will experience vaginal symptoms or a vaginal infection as a result of a shift in the pH and good bacteria levels in the vagina. Always visit or consult a health care provider for diagnosis and treatment if you’re experiencing any vaginal pain or discomfort, or if you notice an abnormal discharge.
Common pH-Related Vaginal Infections
When a women’s vaginal pH changes, it can be a source or indicator of infections.
The most common vaginal infections are bacterial vaginosis (BV); trichomoniasis, a sexually-transmitted infection; and yeast infections, an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans which causes vaginal irritation. All of these infections can lead to a condition called vaginitis, which is inflammation of the vagina.
Of these infections, BV indicates a change in vaginal bacteria, in which there is an imbalance between normal, good types of bacteria and other types of bacteria. Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include thin vaginal discharge, which is usually white or gray in color and foul-smelling; pain during urination; and itching. BV is treatable with antibiotics.
Journal of Women’s Health study:
National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/vaginitis/Pages/default.aspx
National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/bacterialVaginosis/Pages/cause.aspx
National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/bacterialVaginosis/Pages/symptoms.aspx