If you want to keep your vagina healthy, you need to maintain its pH balance. pH is a scale used to measure how acidic or alkaline a solution is. A pH under 7 is acidic while a level over 7 is alkaline or basic. Your vaginal pH should be less than 4.5. The lower the number is, the more acidic your vaginal will be. A high pH may allow bacteria and yeast to thrive and this can lead to infection. You may have had your vaginal pH tested in your doctor’s office before, but you can also test it yourself at home. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of vaginal pH testing and what the test results may mean.
Why a Low Vaginal pH is Best
The vagina is home to lactobacilli bacteria which secrete lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which helps to keep the environment acidic. A normal vaginal pH is somewhere between 3.8 and 4.5. Within this range, the vagina can keep bacteria and fungi at bay.
Vaginal pH can vary throughout your lifetime. It is usually higher than 4.5 before a girl has her first menstrual period and after a woman enters menopause. During your reproductive years, it tends to be less than 4.5 unless you have an infection or a condition that increases it.
What Affects Acidity or Alkalinity
When something affects your vaginal pH balance, it typically increases the alkalinity rather than reduces it.
Causes of Changes in Vaginal pH
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there are too many bad bacteria in the vagina. BV usually results in pain, itching and burning in the vagina. You may also experience a foul-smelling gray or white discharge and a burning sensation when urinating.
Many women douche because they believe it can reduce vaginal odor. However, using baking soda, vinegar or perfumed solutions inside the vagina regularly can make the smell worse. That’s because douching gets rid of both friendly and unfriendly bacteria and this affects the pH balance, making you more prone to infections.
Women who are going through menopause tend to have elevated pH levels. Their average tends to be around 5.3, possibly due to their reduced estrogen levels.
Presence of Menstrual Blood or Semen
If you are menstruating, your vaginal pH can increase since blood is more alkaline than the vaginal environment. Semen can also temporarily increase pH since it is basic.
Antibiotics can be helpful when you are ill since they kill harmful bacteria. However, they also get rid of good bacteria, including those in the vagina. If you are taking antibiotics, your vaginal pH may be out of balance.
Why Should You Get Your Vaginal pH Tested?
If you’re experiencing symptoms like itching, burning or unusual discharge, you need to know what is causing them so you can get the appropriate treatment. Since yeast infections are so common, this is usually the first thing women think of when they experience discomfort. Testing your pH can help you to determine if this is the case. Of course, you should see your doctor before attempting to treat yourself based solely on the test results.
How to Find Out the Acidity of Your Vagina
You can go to the doctor for testing, but you can also purchase an at-home kit and do the testing yourself.
How to Do the Test
All you need to do is hold a piece of pH paper against your vaginal wall for a few seconds and then compare the color of the paper against the chart provided in the kit. The number on the chart which best corresponds to the color on the paper is your vaginal pH level.
What Does the Result of my Vaginal pH Test Mean?
Naturally, after you get your pH levels, you’ll want to know exactly what the number means.
Positive Test Result
If you test positive for an elevated pH, it does not automatically mean you have an infection. There’s nothing you can buy over-the-counter to address high pH so you should make an appointment to see your doctor for further testing and treatment recommendations
Negative Test Result
In the same way that positive test results don’t mean you have an infection, negative test results are not an indicator that you are completely healthy. You may have an infection that doesn’t affect the pH of your vagina, like a yeast infection. If you’ve been diagnosed with a yeast infection before and you’re experiencing the same symptoms, you can use an over-the-counter remedy for relief.
However, a negative test result may also mean you’re experiencing non-infectious vaginal irritation. It could be an allergic reaction to body wash, laundry detergent, scented tampons or another irritant. If you try home remedies or over-the-counter solutions and they don’t work, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Why pH May Be Above Normal
The most common reason for elevated vaginal pH is bacterial vaginosis. Medications for yeast infections won’t get rid of this condition so it important that you get medical advice instead of self-medicating.
At-home tests are just as accurate as those which the doctors use. However, they don’t tell you what type of infection you have. Doctors diagnose infections based on a combination of pH, discharge, cultures and other factors.
Does It Make Sense to Go to the Doctor for Testing?
You should still go to the doctor. While the tests are equally accurate, your doctor will provide a much more thorough assessment. Your doctor knows your medical history and has access to a much wider range of tests.
Keeping Your Levels Balanced
Keeping vaginal pH levels within the normal range can help to reduce the likelihood that you will develop infections. Refraining from douching or using harsh soaps can help to keep things in balance. Using probiotic supplements can also help to create an environment for healthy bacteria to flourish.
Taking a vaginal pH test allows you to confirm whether you have a simple yeast infection or another condition. However, doctors rarely rely on pH alone to diagnose medical conditions. Testing can, however, be the start of figuring out what is causing your symptoms so you can get the relief you need.