Changes in vaginal pH as a result of common triggers can have harsh consequences, making the vaginal ecosystem far more susceptible to problems such as odor, irritation or even bacterial vaginosis (“BV”): an itching, burning infection with many of the same symptoms as a yeast infection.
In an effort to educate women about health issues, founder of HealthRock, Dr. Machelle Seibel, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Massachusetts says, “The vaginal ecosystem is delicate and complicated. Small, common triggers can elevate pH and cause dramatic changes to the vaginal flora, throwing the entire system out of balance which can make women much more susceptible to vaginal infection.”
Not only is bacterial vaginosis painful and frustrating, but untreated BV can also increase the risk of premature birth, and puts women at a significantly higher risk for urinary tract infections (“UTI’s), pelvic inflammatory disease, and even sexually transmitted diseases. Once contracted, BV must be treated with antibiotics, which can lead to other adverse effects like overgrowth of yeast, making prevention more important than ever.
BV is one of the most common vaginal infections and outnumbers yeast infections by nearly 2:1. BV is caused when there are more pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the vagina than beneficial (good) ones, which happens when the vaginal pH becomes elevated, allowing “bad” bacteria to thrive.
According to Dr. Seibel, women experience many of the most common pH triggers for vaginal infection on a regular basis:
1. Menstruation and Tampons: The pH of blood is 7.4, which is much more alkaline than the normal pH of the vaginal environment, which is anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5. Tampons absorb menstrual fluids for extended periods of time, and are therefore among the most common pH triggers that can lead to infection.
2. Intercourse: sexual intercourse can also change vaginal pH. Sweat and bodily fluids, like semen, with a pH of 7.1 to 8, and can elevate pH.
3. Douching: any vaginal infusion of water or other fluids can affect vaginal pH, as the pH of water is 7. Fragrances and perfumes can also irritate the vagina.
4. Medication: many different kinds of medications, from birth control pills to antihistamines, can alter hormone levels, dry out the body, or change the pH of the body’s most sensitive tissues.
5. Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, menopause and your normal monthly cycle can cause hormone changes which alter vaginal pH, raising women’s susceptibility to infection.
“We are learning how to control pH in order to help women maintain vaginal health and avoid infections like bacterial vaginosis,” said Dr. Seibel. “By making sure to keep the vaginal environment at a pH of 4.7 or lower, especially during these trigger times, women reduce the risk of infection and prevent unnecessary irritation and discomfort.”