Vaginal health is influenced by its pH balance - the balance between “acidic” and “basic.” Healthy levels of certain types of bacteria keep vaginal pH balance between 3.8 and 4.5, which is on the slightly acidic side. However, the balance can be upset quite easily. A high vaginal pH indicates there is not enough acidity while lower pH levels indicate higher amounts of acidity. When your vaginal pH is above the normal level range, you may experience itching, excess discharge and some pain when urinating.
The pH of blood is 7.4, which is much higher than the normal pH levels of a healthy vagina. Tampons can trigger a pH imbalance because they absorb menstrual blood and fluids for an extended period of time; the problem is made worse if tampons are left in place for longer than a few hours, as unhealthy bacteria grow freely in this moist, warm environment.
Sweat and bodily fluids, like semen, carry a pH of 7.1 to 8. When these fluids are introduced into the vagina pH levels will change, triggering an imbalance. Also, women produce natural lubricant when aroused, but some women do not produce enough. If insufficient natural lubricant has been produced during intercourse, the labia and vagina will become irritated and chafed which can also trigger pH imbalances. Intercourse-induced pH imbalances often resolve themselves within a few hours.
It’s important to maintain the slightly acidic nature of the vagina by keeping pH to the lower end. Water has a pH of 7 so using any infusion of water or other fluids on the vagina can cause the pH levels to rise. Perfumes and fragrances often irritate the vagina and trigger pH imbalances.
Medication ranging from birth control pills to antihistamines can cause a pH imbalance in the vagina. Any medication will upset the body’s normal balance of hormones and chemicals, and can upset both bodily and vaginal pH balance.
Hormone levels play an active role in balancing vaginal pH. Changing hormonal levels (during pregnancy, menopause and menstrual cycles), can influence vaginal pH balance.
Maintaining the vagina pH within the normal range is not hard. Things you can do to maintain pH balance include keeping the vagina clean, making small dietary changes, practicing safe sex, etc.
Although it’s meant to be a cleaning product, douching does more harm than good. It pushes water and fluids into the vagina which can change the pH and cause an imbalance. Also stop using harsh cleansers or soaps on the vulva. Visit your doctor for an effective cleaning method if you experience unpleasant odor in this section.
Hydration and a balanced diet are key to maintaining vaginal health. Cranberry juice and yogurt can help treat and even prevent yeast infections. Soy can help with vaginal dryness, too. If your vaginal pH levels are off, avoid sugar. Sugar upsets the body’s pH balance, making it more acidic in general and this heightened acidity can cause organ damage.
Certain fabrics (synthetics) worn close to the genitals can increase heat and moisture, allowing harmful bacteria to grow uncontrolled, causing infection and pH imbalance. Wear cotton underwear and always change out of wet or sweaty clothing as soon as possible.
Semen is more basic and can upset the more acidic pH balance of the vagina. Use condoms during sexual intercourse to avoid semen coming in contact with the vagina. It’s also a healthier choice to use condoms as they protect from various sexually transmitted diseases.
You want to use plain, warm water to clean the vulva and vagina. It also helps to use soap, but use a mild, perfume-free soap, like glycerin soap, to avoid affecting pH levels further.
Tampons and sanitary napkins absorb menstrual blood. If you wear a pad or leave a tampon in for too long you will be overexposing the vagina to the higher pH in the blood. Be sure to change them out frequently during menstruation.
It’s important for every woman to have her first gynecological exam by the time she turns 21. Women who are sexually active should see their gynecologist regularly and have annual pap smears, which indicate changes in vaginal health and serve as early detection for certain types of cancer.
Abnormally high vaginal pH levels are almost always a symptom of vaginitis. However, it can also be a sign of sexually transmitted diseases or estrogen deficiencies during pregnancy and menopause. If you feel that you might have an imbalanced vaginal pH or you’re suffering from any signs of vaginitis such as itching, burning, or unusual discharge and odor, consult a doctor or gynecologist, especially if symptoms are unmanageable or persistent. Even if you get a negative result from a pH test you may still have yeast infections or other kind of irritation. It is best to visit your doctor and let him explain the results.