Vaginal Health: Tips for Maintaining pH Balance and Preventing Infections

While essential to a woman's overall health, vaginal health is a delicate equilibrium that can become difficult to navigate. Of the many factors that comprise a healthy vagina, pH is often the strongest determinant of vaginal health. The vagina is home to a variety of yeasts and healthy, acid-producing bacteria that keep your vagina’s pH somewhere between 3.8 to 4.5. By maintaining a slightly acidic environment, the vagina can protect itself against harmful pathogens that cause infection such as bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which daily life can disrupt your vagina’s pH balance, however, with the right precautions the effects of such changes can be mitigated, or avoided.

How to Identify an Imbalance in Vaginal pH

Vaginal pH imbalances may go unnoticed if there is no infection. When there is an issue, vaginal imbalances may cause discomfort, and lead to changes in the look and smell of normal vaginal discharge. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Itching around the vagina
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Pain or burning sensation during sex
  • Thick, white discharge that may resemble cottage cheese
  • Grey or green discharge
  • Fishy, foul smell from the vagina and/or discharge

These symptoms are indicative of a few different types of infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, or yeast infections. Therefore, it is important to contact your provider when you notice any of the above changes to receive a proper diagnosis and appropriate care.

Preventing Vaginal pH Imbalances

Although easily disturbed, vaginal pH can also be easily maintained with some simple precautions:

  • Avoiding unprotected sex. Semen is a lot less acidic than the vagina, with a pH of 8, and carries its own host of bacteria. Therefore, frequent unprotected sex can upset the vagina’s acidic environment and introduce more opportunities for infection. Additionally, using protection can help avoid STIs that can also disrupt vaginal pH.
  • Avoid douching. Douching involves inserting water and/or a mixture of other fluids into the vagina in an effort to clean it. However, the vagina is self-cleaning, and introducing fluids and chemicals can disrupt its delicate pH balance. Instead, it is best to focus on cleaning the vulva, the outside of the vagina, with warm water. If you’d like to use soap, try to consider fragrance-free washes.
  • Wearing the right underwear. Make sure to wear breathable, absorbent underwear, such as those made of cotton, to avoid a buildup of moisture.
  • Eating the right food. As mentioned earlier, the vagina hosts a variety of healthy bacteria. To continue to support your vaginal microbiome, you may want to consider eating foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, or taking a probiotic supplement. Additionally, you may want to avoid sugary and processed foods, such as white rice and white bread, to prevent yeast infections.

Consulting Your Provider About Vaginal pH

If you are struggling with the unpleasant side effects of infection due to imbalanced vaginal pH, there is no reason to be ashamed. As you now know, the vaginal pH environment is sensitive and can be disrupted by commonplace practices. In addition to these tips, talk to your doctor about self-administered vaginal pH testing and supplements such as boric acid to further protect yourself against infection. All bodies are different, therefore it is important to seek care that is unique to your needs. Schedule a consultation today to learn more.

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