When it comes to taking care of yourself, there are certain things we make a priority if we have the means. Like if you have a cold or something, you will be more likely to go to the doctor. But if something funky is happening with your vagina, you may ignore it. Many of us with vaginas don’t give enough care to our vaginal health. Unless there is something that causes us major discomfort, we may not pay attention to it. But sometimes the major discomfort is the final stage that something is wrong, and we should be paying attention sooner.
Good vaginal health all stems from one important thing: maintaining a normal vaginal pH.
In certain parts of your body, having an overly acidic environment is less than ideal. For example, a lot of stomach acid or esophageal acid can be bad. But that’s not the case when it comes to your vagina.
“The vagina has a natural microbiome that’s similar to the gut’s,” Leah Millheiser, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University, tells Shape. So, just like you make an effort to keep your gut health on track, keeping your vaginal health on track should be a priority.
But just how do you know that your vaginal pH is “normal”? We talked to Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, MD, OB/Gyn to get the scoop. As she explains, a “normal” vaginal pH is 3.5 to 4.5. You may not think much about it, but having a good vaginal pH is important. Because as Dr. Richardson explains, “Well-balanced vaginal tissue helps prevent an overgrowth of infectious bacteria.” Having an abnormal vaginal pH can be a sign of infection. In turn, that can increase the risk of other infections.
But how do you know you have an abnormal vaginal pH? According to Dr. Richardson, there are usually telltale signs to be looking out for. If you have a high pH which is 5-6.0, that may be a sign of trichomonas vaginitis. As she explains, the most common symptoms of trichomonas are “profuse, yellowish, and foul-smelling discharge.” Additionally, a pH higher than 4.5 can also be a sign of bacterial vaginosis. Its most common symptom is a “thin, whitish-gray foul-smelling discharge.”
But it’s not just a higher pH that is cause for concern. If you have a pH of less than 4.5, that can be a sign of candidal vaginitis, aka a yeast infection. As some may already know, the most common symptom of a yeast infection is a thick, white, cottage-cheese like discharge. If you’re concerned that something may be off and want to find out, “there are pH kits available to test the vaginal pH,” Dr. Richardson says. However, she recommends seeing your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment. Because as we know, any sort of at home testing isn’t always 100% accurate.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to see a professional immediately. You can usually try treating a yeast infection with an OTC medication, but sometimes you need something stronger. This is especially true if you get frequent yeast infections.
But what can you do to get your vaginal health back on course? The first step is easy enough. Identify the cause of the changes in vaginal pH.
Are you using a different laundry detergent? Maybe you’re wearing a different style of underwear. Have you made changes to your diet? These are all things to consider. Once you figure that out, your next step is to treat the offending causes. Lastly, Dr. Richardson recommends starting a women’s health probiotic, such as RepHresh Pro-B.
“Pro-B helps provide probiotic lactobacillus which balances the yeast and bacteria in the vagina and helps maintain healthy vaginal flora,” says Richardson.
Not paying attention to your vaginal health is easy. If the problems aren’t glaringly obvious, like an infection causing discharge, we may not even think anything is wrong. But sometimes things are brewing under the surface and we’re not even aware. That’s why it’s important to know your vagina just as well as you know any other part of your body.
Make sure you’re maintaining good vaginal health. Even if you’ve been doing a good job so far, there are ways to keep it up. According to Dr. Richardson, you have a variety of ways to maintain your vaginal health. The first way is incredibly easy. “Always remember the basics such as wiping front to back, changing sanitary products frequently, and STD testing annually.”
And if you want to take it a step further, take something like Pro-B to “help maintain a well-balanced vaginal pH and improve vaginal health.” This would be especially good if you’re prone to yeast infections or other vaginal issues. Dr. Richardson also recommends wearing cotton underwear with a cotton lining. This is especially true if you’re working out. Sweating “creates a warm, moist environment known to lead to the overgrowth of yeast,” says Dr. Millheiser. Cotton tends to be a more breathable fabric, which is important for vaginal health. And most importantly, people with vaginas should avoid things like douching or vaginal steaming.
Maintaining good vaginal health doesn’t have to be complicated. But it’s definitely something that you have to take seriously. Following the simple steps above can save you a lot of trouble in the long run. And if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.