The human vagina is home to a complex community of bacteria that can help to maintain good vaginal and sexual health. Many of these bacteria are part of the Lactobacillus family.1 However, other microorganisms can overwhelm the normal Lactobacillus population and cause a condition known as bacterial vaginosis. Let’s take a closer look at bacterial vaginosis, its symptoms, and some home remedies for taking care of it.
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis, sometimes referred to as nonspecific vaginitis or BV, occurs when the various bacteria in your vagina become imbalanced, causing certain types of bacteria to grow out of control. The infection is most often caused by Gardnerella vaginalis, which tends to be the most common bacteria found in association with BV.2
In the past, bacterial vaginosis was originally called Gardnerella vaginitis, but doctors have since found that other bacteria can potentially cause the condition. A sudden imbalance or overgrowth of the following other organisms can cause BV:
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
The most common signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- A foul, fishy vaginal odor
- Vaginal itching
- Burning or discomfort during urination
- Vaginal discharge that may appear thin, gray, white, or green
However, bacterial vaginosis does not always exhibit symptoms. Sometimes symptoms will come and go quickly, or symptoms may be so mild that they’re basically unnoticeable. For this reason, some people may not even know that they have bacterial vaginosis.4
Risk Factors for Bacterial Vaginosis
Just about anything that either changes the pH of your vagina or upsets the normal vaginal flora can cause bad bacteria levels to spike and result in bacterial vaginosis. This includes:
- Douching – Douching is the act of washing the vagina. Water has a neutral pH of about 7 while the normally acidic vagina has a pH of 3-4. Douching washes away the normal bacteria and causes fluctuations in your vagina’s bacterial and pH balance. Vaginas are self-cleaning, making douching unnecessary.
- Using Deodorants – Deodorants, scented pads, and perfumed bath products contain chemicals that can upset the normal vaginal flora and/or irritate the skin.
- Feminine Hygeine Products – Tampons are inserted into the vagina and can harbor the growth of bacteria. Tampons that have been left in the vagina for a long time can facilitate the growth of Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) causing coli bacteria. If severe enough it can cause a condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome.
- Sexual activity – Both receptive oral cunnilingus9 as well as male-female intercourse can increase the chances of getting BV
Bacterial vaginosis is not necessarily a sexually transmitted disease (meaning that someone with bacterial vaginosis can’t necessarily spread it to a sexual partner), but having sex with a new partner or having multiple sexual partners has been found to potentially increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis. However, women who have sex with women can spread BV to their partners through the vaginal secretions.11
Treating Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis can be easily treated using antibiotics, either in the form of pills you swallow or topical gels or creams applied directly to the vagina. There are several different antibiotics available, but the most common antibiotics prescribed by doctors are:
Make sure you complete the full course of treatment as instructed by your doctor, even if your symptoms go away sooner. Stopping treatment too early increases the risk of recurrence. You should also abstain from sex until you finish treatment and your infection subsides. If you are pregnant and exhibiting symptoms, it’s even more important to seek treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of low birth weight or premature delivery.6
Home Remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis
Along with medical treatments, incorporating home remedies can help to treat or prevent bacterial vaginosis.Yogurt
Because BV is caused by dysbiosis, or imbalance, of the vaginal flora, restoring the normal vaginal flora is helpful for the treatment of BV. One study found that consuming yogurt containing live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures increases the amount of L. acidophilus found in the vagina and reduces the episodes of BV after 1 and 2 months compared to women who consumed sterilized and pasteurized yogurt10. Another study found that the intra-vaginal application of yogurt in pregnant women with BV was better at treating it than intra-vaginal vinegar tampons and no treatment11.Probiotics
Probiotics refer to the beneficial bacteria found throughout your body (primarily in your gut and vagina). Probiotics have been found to help support a healthy digestive system, but studies suggest that having certain Lactobacillus species such as L. crispatus and L. jensenii in the rectum is associated with a lower chance of having BV12. Lactobacillus probiotics are particularly helpful for vaginal health as they make up a part of the normal vaginal flora and help establish a healthy pH environment.7 In addition to lowering your chances of having BV, having a healthy vaginal microbiome helps to lower the amount of UTI-causing E. coli bacteria as well as yeast-infection causing Candida yeast. You can get probiotics from various types of food, including yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, or from dietary supplements.Boric Acid Suppository
Boric acid is a versatile compound used to treat Candida yeast infections that are resistant to traditional antifungals. According to researchers boric acid has never been shown to be effective in treating BV. However, anecdotal stories and product reviews disagree. Boric acid suppositories are inserted into the vagina to help to help restore the normally acidic state of the vagina. Boric acid must be used with caution as it can be toxic if eaten or consumed orally.8
Be Aware of Your Products
As mentioned, avoid using heavily scented products or harsh soaps on your vagina. These can irritate your vaginal lining and alter the pH levels. And it cannot be stressed enough: avoid douching.
Bacterial vaginosis can be uncomfortable and painful, but with the right treatment and some simple lifestyle changes, you can easily manage it and prevent recurrence.