Vaginal pH Overview

It is often shocking for people to discover that pH directly affects the health of the vagina. Although it sounds complicated, maintenance of its pH is a natural function of the vagina and mostly does not need any external help. Nevertheless, understanding the role of pH and ways to keep it within normal levels is crucial.

What is meant by vaginal pH?

You were probably introduced to the concept of pH in a chemistry class in school. Don’t worry if you have forgotten about it; we will summarize the basics. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Neutral pH is, therefore, 7 which falls exactly in the middle of the range.

How is pH related to the vagina, you ask? The normal pH level of the vagina is on the acidic side (between 3.8 and 4.5) and maintenance of this pH is essential for keeping the vagina healthy. Certain factors, such as menstruation, sexual activity, age, and medicines can affect the vaginal pH.

How do changes in pH affect vaginal health?

The reason why maintaining vaginal pH is so crucial is that the balance of the resident bacteria of the vagina depends upon it. Changes in pH cause an imbalance in the levels of different types of vaginal bacteria, resulting in invasion by “bad” bacteria. Decrease in acidity increases the risk of infections and other vaginal disorders.

Some manifestations of an imbalance in the vaginal pH are:

  • Bacterial Vaginosis

This infection is caused by an overgrowth of certain vaginal bacteria. BV results in a disruption in the normal vaginal flora. It usually causes burning micturition, thin white or grey vaginal discharge, and vaginal itching.

  • Yeast Infection

Overgrowth of a fungus known as Candida results in a yeast infection. The symptoms include pain during urination/intercourse, a thick, white discharge, vaginal itching, and swelling or redness of the vulva.

  • Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by trichomonas vaginalis. Although it is usually asymptomatic, it increases susceptibility to other STIs.

What are the signs of an unbalanced vaginal pH?

It may not always be clear that the vaginal pH is unbalanced. The following common symptoms can help you determine whether your vaginal pH is outside the normal range:

  • Keep an eye on your vaginal discharge. If it changes color (to gray or yellow) or becomes thicker, it may indicate a pH imbalance in the vagina.
  • Vaginas have a natural smell, but it might change to a foul, “fishy” odor when the pH is imbalanced.
  • If you experience any irritation or itchiness in your vulva or vagina, you might have imbalanced pH.

Some other symptoms of changes in vaginal pH include burning during intercourse or urination, swelling of the vulva, and vaginal pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms, get an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can to determine the cause of imbalanced pH.  Showing up for your scheduled OB/GYN appointments regularly is important to ensure that any changes in your vaginal pH are promptly detected before they lead to complications.