Here's What Happens If Your Vaginal pH Isn't Balanced

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Vaginas are amazing. They give life, they give pleasure, and they're resilient as hell. But, sometimes they run into difficulties — many of which can happen if your vaginal pH level is out of whack. From having unprotected sex to all of those products that are meant to "clean" your vagina (which it doesn't need because it's self-cleaning), there are a lot of things that can upset the pH levels of your vagina.

Although a "normal" vaginal pH level falls between 3.8 to 4.5, slight variations in that aren't necessarily a problem. "Since hormone levels are fluctuating on a monthly basis, slight changes in vaginal pH may occur, as long as the levels stay in the 'normal' range slight ebbs and flows in pH levels shouldn't be overly concerning," pelvic floor physical therapist Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT tells Bustle. "The vagina is pretty good at cleaning itself, but if someone is symptomatic and concerned about their vaginal pH they should contact their healthcare provider." If you notice other symptoms — like itchiness, pain, or just discomfort — it's important you contact your doctor.

Why does your pH level change? Well, as much as the vagina is amazing and self-cleaning, there are a lot of things that can throw it off its game. "As a gynecologist, I can tell you that the vagina is one of the most impressive organs in the human body," OB/GYN Dr. Shannon Klingman tells Bustle. "Healthy and unhealthy bacteria both exist in the vagina. The good bacteria prevail the vast majority of the time. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ and tolerates the effects of intercourse and semen, periods and menstrual blood, as well as menopause and pH changes that go along with that. With all that wonder being said, there are times when the vagina is more vulnerable to a disruption of its ... balance."

If you notice a disruption or it doesn't feel right, it could be that an off pH level is leading to bigger problems.

It Can Mean An Infection Or An Imbalance

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Most vaginal problems come from changes to your pH level. "When you’re feeling funky down there, it probably means your vaginal pH is slightly thrown off," Dr. Maria Sophocles, OB/GYN and Medical Director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, tells Bustle. But the truth is, these changes can lead to a lot of different issues. But it can be difficult to distinguish between yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other imbalances, so it's important to visit your doctor when you're feeling off.

"It can be a problem and lead to things like vaginal pain, burning, itching and pain with sex. In order to treat it you need to determine the cause," Gelman says. "If it is due to an infection or yeast overgrowth then an antibiotic, anti-fungal or other medication may be prescribed. If it is due to a hormonal imbalance than a topical compounded hormone cream may be prescribed or another medication to help 're-balance' the hormone levels. Therefore, it is important to consult a health care provider to determine what the cause is. It is important to not use washes/douches as this can exacerbate the issue and alter the vaginal flora/pH more and can do more harm than good."

Also, it's important to remember that some common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause discomfort, pain, or discharge, so visiting a doctor can help you figure out if that's the case.

Your vagina is an amazing, powerful, self-cleaning machine— but it's also really sensitive to things that get all up in there. Avoid the douches and the washes, which can make your pH levels even more unbalanced, and let it do its thing. Then, if something feels off, contact your doctor. Your pH level can easily vary, but you should be able to feel if something is really imbalanced.