Doctors can measure vaginal pH to determine how acidic the vaginal environment is. It can also be tested at home.
In the vagina, high pH can cause infections because it allows bacteria and yeast to thrive.
In this article, learn more about normal vaginal pH levels, how to test them at home, and what to do to restore vaginal pH balance.
What are Normal Vaginal pH Levels?
A normal vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5. A pH level within this range can help keep bacterial and fungal infections at bay.
Lactobacilli bacteria live in the vagina and release lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which give the vagina its acidic pH level.
Vaginal pH can change throughout a person’s life. It is usually greater than 4.5 before a person’s first period and after menopause.
Vaginal pH is usually less than 4.5 during a woman’s reproductive years unless a condition or infection raises it.
What Changes Vaginal pH?
Many conditions and infections can affect the pH balance of the vagina, usually by raising the pH level.
Causes of changes in vaginal pH include:
Bacterial vaginosis is a medical condition that occurs when there is an overabundance of bacteria in the vagina. This can cause an increase in the pH level of the vagina.
A person with bacterial vaginosis may experience vaginal itching, burning, or pain. They may also feel a burning sensation when urinating and may notice a white or gray discharge.
Douching refers to washing or cleaning the vagina using specific solutions, such as vinegar or baking soda.
These solutions claim to reduce vaginal odor, but they can actually make the odor worse. This is because they wash away good bacteria, which affects the pH balance of the vagina and can make one more prone to infection.
A study found that women have higher pH levels during menopause. In the study, women in menopause had an average vaginal pH of 5.3.
A drop in estrogen levels during menopause can affect a person’s vaginal pH.
Other Vaginal Infections
In addition to bacterial vaginosis, the presence of an infection can also raise the pH of the vagina.
Examples include Trichomonas vaginalis and Group B Streptococcus (GBS).
Presence of Menstrual Blood
The pH of the blood is higher than that of the vaginal environment. When a person is menstruating, the presence of menstrual blood can raise the pH level of the vagina.
Presence of Semen
Semen is basic, in contrast to the acidic environment of the vagina. When semen enters the vagina, it can temporarily raise the pH.
People use antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria, but these drugs can also kill good bacteria. This will include bacteria in the vagina. If a person is taking antibiotics, their vaginal pH may be out of balance.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
UTIs do not cause a high vaginal pH, but a high pH can increase a person’s risk of developing a UTI.
Low estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause can put a person at risk of developing more frequent UTIs, as low estrogen causes vaginal pH to rise.
Doctors may prescribe estrogen therapy to lower vaginal pH and prevent more UTIs.
Researchers have also linked high vaginal pH to several other conditions, including infertility, premature birth, and increased risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Natural Remedies to Restore Balance
People can buy home testing kits that measure the pH balance of the vagina. These kits are available at some pharmacies and online.
At-home testing may reveal elevated pH levels, which may indicate the presence of an infection.
The test involves placing a strip of paper that measures pH against the vaginal wall for a specified period of time.
After removing the paper, a person can compare the colors on the chart in the kit. Each color corresponds to a pH value.
People should read all the information that is included in the test kit. This will include recommendations about the timing of the test, including not testing during menstruation or too soon after sex.
If a person’s vaginal pH level is normally high without symptoms of an infection, there are several steps they can take at home to lower their pH level. These include:
- Avoid harsh soaps and douching. Soaps generally have a high pH, and using them to clean the vaginal area can increase the pH of the vagina. It is best to use warm water and a mild cleanser to clean the vulva, but avoid using soap inside the vagina. This will help maintain the pH balance of the vagina.
- Taking a probiotic supplement or suppository. Probiotics help restore the body’s natural bacteria levels. Some foods also contain probiotics, including yogurt, miso, and kombucha.
- Changing tampons regularly. Leaving the tampon in for too long can raise the pH of the vagina because the pH of the blood is slightly basic. Changing tampons frequently also reduces the risk of bacterial infections, including toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
- Use barrier protection during sex. Barrier protection, such as using a condom or dental dam, not only helps prevent pregnancy and STIs, but can prevent semen and other fluids from affecting the pH level in the vagina.
Doctors may also prescribe creams, such as estrogen creams, which can help lower vaginal pH levels.