Bacterial vaginosis, commonly known as BV, is the most common vaginal infection. Nearly 30% of women in the U.S. will experience bacterial vaginosis at some point in their lifetime.
Bacterial vaginosis happens when naturally-occurring so-called “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good” bacteria (lactobacilli) in the vagina. Doctors are unsure what causes this imbalance.
However, bacterial vaginosis is more common in women who are sexually active and in women who douche.
While many women with bacterial vaginosis don’t experience symptoms, others do. Symptoms may include:
- Thin, green, white, or grey discharge
- A “fishy” odor
- Vaginal itching
You may be able to treat a mild case of bacterial vaginosis at home.
Remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis
For some women, mild cases of bacterial vaginosis will go away on their own. However, there are a few remedies you can try at home to relieve symptoms and speed your recovery. If you are unsure whether you have bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection, go see your doctor.
When you have bacterial vaginosis, the pH (acidity level) of your vagina increases. Over-the-counter tests can tell you if your vagina’s pH is higher than normal, which can tell you if your infection is likely bacterial vaginosis. These tests aren’t always accurate, so if you’re unsure, go to your doctor.
Probiotics, live bacteria found in some foods and supplements, might help restore balance to your vaginal bacteria. Studies show that eating yogurt or probiotic supplements may treat bacterial vaginosis, and is quite safe.
Another promising remedy is boric acid, a white powder with antifungal and antiviral properties. According to limited research, boric acid suppositories inserted into your vagina may help treat bacterial vaginosis, with few side effects. However, more research is needed, so it’s important to check with your doctor before using boric acid.
While doctors aren’t sure how to prevent bacterial vaginosis, there are still some steps you can take that may help prevent it. These include:
- Not having sex or reducing your number of partners
- Using a male condom when you have sex
- Not douching (cleaning your vagina with water or soap)
- Avoiding scented soaps for vaginal cleansing
Several studies show that taking a 2000 IU/day dose of vitamin D supplements may help avoid BV infections.
Taking a daily women’s probiotic with high levels of Lactobacilli (“good” bacteria) may help keep your vaginal bacterial balance healthy. Many women say that probiotics help them avoid infections, but more research is needed on this subject.
While you have bacterial vaginosis, avoid sex until your infection is treated. It is unusual for bacterial vaginosis to spread to male sexual partners, but it can be spread to female sexual partners. If this happens, female partners may need to be treated as well.
When to See a Doctor
While bacterial vaginosis is usually mild, in more severe cases it can have lasting impacts if left untreated. Bacterial vaginosis symptoms may appear similar to other vaginal infections, and at home remedies may be unsuccessful, so it’s important to see your doctor if symptoms do not disappear.
Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics that will usually treat bacterial vaginosis within one week. Finish all of your antibiotics, even if your symptoms go away early. If you symptoms don’t go away within a few days of finishing the antibiotic, go back to your doctor.
If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can pose some severe health risks.
- A bacterial vaginosis infection may increase your chance of contracting HIV
- Bacterial vaginosis also makes it more likely that you will contract other STDs like chlamydia or gonorrhea. These STDs can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can make it difficult to have children.
- If you are pregnant and contract bacterial vaginosis, a premature birth becomes more likely.