What is vaginal flora?
Vaginal flora are an ecosystem that consists of a community of diverse species of bacteria (micro-organisms) that normally cohabitate in the vaginal environment and form a protective film over the surface of the vaginal mucosa. However, the balance between helpful and harmful bacteria is very fragile.
In order to maintain a healthy and balanced vaginal flora, the normal vaginal pH level must be maintained at an optimal level of acidity, i.e. between 3.8 and 4.5. A change in pH level causes an imbalance in the vaginal flora and a risk of inflammation or infection, such as non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis.
Vaginal flora is usually primarily composed of lactobacilli. This “good” bacteria protects against vaginal infections in two ways:
- by producing lactic acid, which helps maintain acidic vaginal pH and healthy vaginal flora
- by producing hydrogen peroxide, which prevents the overgrowth of infection-causing bacteria
The composition and balance of vaginal flora may vary under the influence of physiological or external factors, such as:
- Hormonal changes (menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, hormone replacements)
- Sexual activity
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Vaginal douches