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The Link Between Smoking and Vaginal Health Issues

The Link Between Smoking and Vaginal Health Issues

Your vagina is a delicate ecosystem that depends on the presence of good bacteria, the proper pH balance, and sufficient lubrication to stay healthy and happy. Anything you do that affects your health ultimately affects your vagina.

One habit that has a strongly negative effect on vaginal health is smoking cigarettes. You already know that smoking can cause lung cancer and other cancers, and put you at risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, but those may seem like far-off concerns.

More immediate is the state of your vagina. If you’re struggling with infections, dryness, or unpleasant odors, you may need to rethink your smoking habit. 

At Elite Gynecology, our expert gynecologists, Molly McBride, MD, and Tamara Guichard, MD, diagnose and treat vaginal dryness and other vaginal issues in the comfort of our offices. While we always encourage our patients to quit smoking and any other habits that could impair their health, there’s actually a direct link between smoking and vaginal health. 

In the following, we share just a few of the ways cigarettes can adversely affect your vagina.

Cigarettes don’t just make your breath stink

One type of bacteria that protects your vagina and keeps it healthy is called Lactobacillus. The chemicals in nicotine depopulate the good bacteria in your vagina, including Lactobacillus, which allows unhealthy bacteria to thrive. Low levels of Lactobacillus strains cause a foul odor in your vaginal discharge and vulvar area. 

Cigarettes raise your risk for infections

Cigarette smokers who are low in Lactobacillus have another strike against them: They tend to have high levels of biogenic amines, such as agmatine, cadaverine, putrescine, tryptamine, and tyramine, which increase the virulence of infective agents. 

If you smoke, then, you’re more susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and vaginal infections, including bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis creates uncomfortable symptoms, such as itching and a foul odor. 

Worse, smoking and the changes it brings to your vaginal ecosystem also raise your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including:

If you smoke and are sexually active, it’s more imperative than ever to get tested regularly for STIs. 

Cigarettes raise your risk for cervical cancer

The primary cause of cervical cancer is infection with HPV. Smokers are more at risk than nonsmokers for HPV infection. In addition, a major metabolite in nicotine, called cotinine, can be found concentrated in the cervical mucus of smokers.

Smoking also damages the DNA in your cervical cells. Smokers with HPV infection are more likely than nonsmokers to progress to cervical precancer and vulval intraepithelial neoplasia. Compared to nonsmokers, women who smoke are twice as likely to get cervical cancer. 

Cigarettes dry up your lubrication

Aging and menopause bring hormonal changes that affect your vagina. One uncomfortable consequence is vaginal atrophy (VA), in which the vaginal skin becomes thinner and produces less lubrication. VA can make sex extremely painful.

One study showed that among healthy postmenopausal women, smokers were much more likely to have severe VA when compared with nonsmokers. Smokers were also more likely to go into menopause earlier than normal, at an average age of 48.5 years, versus 50.5 for nonsmokers. 

But really, do NOT smoke with your vagina

Some women have actually started using their vaginas as a means to take in smoke, including marijuana smoke and cigarette smoke. And, of course, spas offer dubious treatments such as steaming or smoking your vagina to rid it of toxins.

A healthy vagina cleans itself. It doesn’t need smoke, steam, or douches to stay healthy. In fact, those “treatments” upset the vaginal ecosystem and may lead to problems down the road. And, of course, allowing smoke in your vagina exposes it to carcinogens and all kinds of other unhealthy chemicals.

If you need help giving up the cigarettes for good, contact our team at the office nearest you so we can refer you to a smoking cessation program. We have offices in Midtown East and Murray Hill in New York City and in Forest Hills, New York.

Please also phone us or use our online appointment button if you have unusual symptoms, a dry vagina, or need an STI test. 

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