What is a healthy vagina?

A healthy vagina is naturally acidic with a low pH (below 4.5). This natural acidity is due to the presence of lactic acid-producing bacteria known as lactobacilli. The lactic acid produced by these “good bacteria” is critical to maintaining a low pH. The growth of lactobacilli is dependent on the presence of naturally occurring glycogen. These “good bacteria” flourish in an acidic environment and form a very important part of the natural defences, acting as a barrier to infection.

Why is there a change in odor?

Vaginal discharge occurs naturally and may vary in consistency. Typical discharge has an inoffensive slightly sweet odor which is unique to every woman.

However, there are several circumstances that may upset the natural protective acidity of the vagina, that can in turn cause unpleasant and embarrassing odor:

  • Changing hormone levels during pregnancy, breast-feeding or menopause
  • Menstruation (period)
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Douching
  • Sweat
  • Smoking
  • Intrauterine devices (the coil)
  • Vaginal infection*

When the pH of the vagina increases, due to any of the circumstances listed above, this change in pH allows other “bad bacteria” to multiply and produce odor molecules that smell bad.

*If you suspect you may have an infection talk to your healthcare professional.

Can the odor be due to poor hygiene?

It is known that excessive cleaning of the vagina or douching using pre-packaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda or iodine, can cause unpleasant vaginal odor. Douching can change the necessary balance of bacteria that live in the vagina and natural acidity in a healthy vagina. A healthy vagina has both good and harmful bacteria. This balance of bacteria helps maintain an acidic environment, protecting the vagina from infections or irritation. Douching can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria which can lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

You should not douche to try to get rid of vaginal odor or other vaginal problems like discharge, pain, itching, or burning. Douching will only cover up odor for a short time and will make other problems worse.

When is it time to see a doctor?

If you find that over-the-counter feminine products are not helping to resolve the odor and discomfort that you are experiencing, or if you experience new symptoms that you are worried about – it is time to speak to your doctor. There are 3 common vaginal infections that require medical treatment, these are bacterial vaginosis (BV), candidiasis (Thrush) and trichomoniasis (Trich). Below is a useful guide to check your symptoms and help you decide if you need to seek medical advice.

This guideline is available at: www.rcgp.org and www.bashh.org/guidelines