The vagina, which acts as the birth canal and is part of the female reproductive system also exhibits several protective mechanisms.
One such mechanism is maintaining vaginal pH at a mildly acidic level, which does not allow bad bacteria to enter inside. it is scientifically proven that the vaginal pH and cervical mucus play important roles in maintaining sperm function after intercourse.
What is pH?
The potential of hydrogen or pH is a scale of 0 to 14 number. The median 7 is neutral and is the standard measure of hydrogen ion concentration. This scale is designed to detect the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Levels of pH 1 to 7.0 are for acidic solutions, while levels greater than 7.0 to 14 mean basic (or alkaline) solutions. The vaginal pH is often seen from 3.8 to 4.5 and is moderately acidic.
pH is a simple way to describe how acidic or alkaline a substance is. It is a simple linear scale of 0 to number 14. The lower number means the more acidic the substance is and the higher number is more alkaline. pH 7 value stands for neutral.
What is the significance of vaginal pH?
The fluid content of the vagina contains mucus secretions from the cervical cells, Vulvar secretions from sebaceous and sweat glands; Mucus secretion Substances produced by microorganisms present in the vagina. This acidic environment acts as a barrier for pathogenic microorganisms because most bacteria grow best at a pH of around 7.5
There is good vaginal flora, simply put as colonisers of the vagina who stay there, multiply and safeguard the health of the vagina, these warriors are live bacteria like Lactobacilli which are predominantly present (up to 90%). Other bacteria such as Corynebacterium, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Bacterioides form the remaining 10% of this vaginal flora.
What is a normal vaginal pH?
It depends on a woman’s age to some extent, the vagina generally has an acidic pH, offers a great place to stay for beneficial bacteria that help to fight infections, and is naturally lubricated.
During reproductive years (ages 15 to 49), vaginal pH is often below or equal to 4.5. But before menstruation and after menopause, a healthy pH is often higher than 4.5
Higher vaginal pH increases the risk of infections like bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis.
What is the function of vaginal pH?
- During the menstrual period of women, the vaginal pH becomes more acidic from the 2nd to the 14th day of the cycle, the pH value then ranges from 6.6 to 4.2
- This acidic vaginal environment is toxic to sperm because the optimal pH for sperm viability is around 7.0 to 8.5, and a reduction in sperm motility in an acidic environment is often seen.
- During sexual intercourse, due to sexual excitement, the vaginal epithelium produces a transudate that elevates the vaginal pH to 7.0 within seconds and the same can be maintained for up to two hours after ejaculation.
- This environment associated with the alkaline pH of semen, temporarily protects spermatozoa. and allows the entry of sperm to meet the egg.
Variations in the vaginal affect its defence potential and there are increased chances of infection which can indirectly affect fertility.
Which are the Factors That Cause Imbalances in the vaginal pH?
- Unprotected sex: Semen is alkaline, which can encourage the growth of certain bacteria and can become alkaline
- Antibiotics: These drugs not only kill not only bad bacteria but also good ones. Due to this, acidic vaginal flora is lost.
- Douching: Although it isn’t advised, about 20% of women regularly wash their vaginas with a mixture of water and vinegar, baking soda or mild Liquid soaps. Douching increases the vaginal pH level and encourages the growth of harmful bacterial overall.
- Menstrual periods: When that blood flows through the vagina and when absorbed can raise the pH level of the vagina. Menstrual blood often has a pH of 7.4, If menstrual blood stays on a pad for an extended period, the vagina becomes less acidic, that is the reason, why it is often advisable to change pads frequently.
What are the symptoms of imbalanced vaginal pH?
Due to elevated vaginal pH, the infection may be present like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis, which may cause the following symptoms.
A foul or fishy smell, unusual white, grey, or greenish discharge, persistent irritating vaginal itching, and burning sensation during urination.
When to see a doctor in case of imbalanced vaginal pH?
If you have symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis or any other condition linked to a high vaginal pH.
Don’t try to douche, it will increase the chances of infections.
To treat a BV or trichomoniasis infection, a doctor can prescribe tablets, creams etc.
Even though antibiotics can affect vaginal pH, eliminating infection is necessary. After stopping the antibiotics, the healthy pH environment comes back. Persistent Itching, burning, foul odour, unusual discharge
How to look after vaginal health?
- Always Protect Vaginal PH Balance without Douching: Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers on the vulva or inside the vagina, as it can disrupt the balance of good bacteria. Douching increases the proportion of an alkaline environment.
- Have a balanced, nutritious diet and plenty of fluids in the meal: these are very important for vaginal and reproductive health. Yogurt can help prevent yeast infections as it is a potential source of probiotics.
- Safe sex to avoid sexually transmitted disease
- Treating infections on priority with a complete course of medications and not just till the symptoms vanish.
- Use soft undergarments which can keep the vagina clean and dry. Certain types of fabrics and tight-fitting clothing allow the growth of yeast. Wear breathable cotton underwear. If prone to yeast infections, change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workouts.