Bacterial Vaginosis or BV is common to women ages 15 – 44 especially when sexually active. This is a type of vaginal inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, which upsets the natural balance. In women with BV, the normal healthy bacteria (in particular, lactobacilli) are replaced by an overgrowth of other mixed bacteria.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis signs and symptoms may include:
- Thin, gray, white or green vaginal discharge
- Foul-smelling "fishy" vaginal odor
- Vaginal itching and
- Burning during urination
However, many women with bacterial vaginosis have no signs or symptoms.
Who can get Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
Any woman can get bacterial vaginosis (BV), even if she haven’t had sex (but rarely). It usually occurs in people who are sexually active. Women have higher risk if they
- Are pregnant
- Don’t use condoms or dental dams
- Have an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have a new sex partner
- Have a female sex partner
- Use douches
Is Bacterial Vaginosis contagious?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) doesn’t spread from person to person, but sexual activity increases the risk of getting the infection.
How do healthcare providers diagnose Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
Diagnosis of BV requires a vaginal exam by a qualified healthcare provider and the laboratory testing of fluid collected from the vagina.
An examination to diagnose BV is similar to a regular gynecological checkup. While performing the examination, the healthcare provider will visually examine the vagina for signs of BV, which include increased vaginal discharge that has a white or gray color.
The healthcare provider will also collect a small amount of your vaginal fluid with a wooden spatula or cotton-tipped applicator. The sample will be tested in a laboratory for the diagnosis of BV.
An accurate diagnosis of BV is important because it will help the provider determine whether you have BV or some other infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia.
Below are the things the healthcare provider usually asks ensure accurate diagnosis:
- Do not douche for 24 hours before your exam.
- Do not use anything that might irritate your vagina, like vaginal sprays.
- Do not have sex during the 24 hours before your exam.
- Do not put anything in your vagina, including a tampon, before seeing the health care provider.
- Do not schedule your examination while you are menstruating.
Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis
BV often clears up without treatment, but women with signs and symptoms should seek treatment to avoid complications.
Treatment may not be needed if there are no symptoms. Sometimes BV can appear and disappear for no apparent reason.
If there is an abnormal vaginal discharge, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can diagnose BV and rule out other infections, such as gonorrhea or trich.
Untreated BV can also lead to complications, especially during pregnancy.
Some doctors recommend giving BV treatment to all women who will be undergoing a hysterectomy or termination, before the procedure, regardless of symptoms.
Male partners do not usually need treatment, but they can spread BV between female sex partners.
Home Remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis
1. Yogurt - Yogurt is a natural probiotic, which means it has plenty of healthy bacteria in it. Eating yogurt may help introduce healthy bacteria back into the body. This helps establish a balanced vaginal environment and could help fight off the bad bacteria. To get the full benefits, eat at least one serving of yogurt per day.
2. Probiotics - Yogurt contains some probiotics. But there are plenty of probiotic supplements available. According to a 2014 review, which focused on the effects of probiotics on bacterial vaginosis, there’s evidence that taking probiotic supplements daily can help treat and prevent bacterial vaginosis.
3. Garlic - Garlic has strong antibacterial properties, and it’s long been used as a home remedy for bacterial vaginosis.
A 2014 study compared the use of garlic tablets and oral metronidazole, an antibiotic, in treating the condition. Study results showed that taking a garlic supplement tablet could be an option for treating bacterial vaginosis.
4. Hydrogen peroxide - A 2003 study found that about 1 ounce of hydrogen peroxide used daily for 1 week as vaginal irrigation was able to help treat bacterial vaginosis as well as traditional medications. It comes with the advantage of a much lower cost than these medications. It also has fewer side effects.
5. Tea tree oil - Tea tree oil has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help treat bacterial vaginosis. One small study reported successful treatment of bacterial vaginosis with only tea tree oil.
Essential oils like tea tree oil need to be diluted with a carrier oil such as coconut, sweet almond, or olive oil. Choose an oil you know you’re not allergic to and mix 5 to 10 drops of tea tree oil in 1 ounce of carrier oil.
Do not use tea tree oil without mixing it with a carrier oil first as it can burn tender skin.
Many people are allergic to tea tree oil. Before you try this home remedy test a small amount of the diluted oil on your skin before using on your tender vaginal tissue. If there’s no reaction in 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe to use.
There are different ways to use tea tree oil to treat bacterial vaginosis, including mixing it with coconut oil (or another carrier oil) and soaking a tampon in it. Insert the tampon into the vagina and remove it after an hour. Remove it sooner if there’s any irritation. Repeat this a few times per day. Don’t sleep with a diluted tea tree tampon in place.
You can also purchase tea tree oil vaginal suppositories online.
Tea tree is an essential oil. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t monitor it for safety, quality, or purity. Make sure to buy it from a reputable source.
6. Breathable cotton underwear - Certain types of underwear, including spandex, aren’t as breathable as cotton underwear. Wearing underwear made of these materials can trap moisture. This can cause a breeding ground for bacteria and can worsen a bacterial vaginal infection. Also, avoid wearing tight pants.
7. Boric acid - Boric acid capsules can be used to treat bacterial vaginosis. In an early study, a combination of suppressive antimicrobial therapy and intravaginal boric acid were used to treat recurring bacterial vaginosis in 58 women.
Study results showed varying levels of successful treatment which was defined as achieving remission. The levels of success were categorized based on the makeup of the course of treatment. It’s safe to use in the vagina and has been found to be as effective as some medical approaches to treatment.
More research is needed to better understand this treatment approach.
However, note that boric acid is not edible; it’s toxic to eat. It should be kept away from children and animals. It’s also not safe to use if you’re pregnant.
8. Don’t douche - Some women douche because they believe it makes them “cleaner.” In reality, it can disrupt the natural balance of vaginal bacteria and increase the chance of infection. The vagina is self-cleaning and douching only throws off its natural environment.
9. Safer sex - According to the Office of Women’s Health, using condoms can help reduce your risk for bacterial vaginosis. Having sex with new or multiple sexual partners without using a barrier method can increase your risk. Always use condoms or other barrier methods to help in practicing safer sex.
10. Practice good hygiene - The anal and vaginal areas are close together. By practicing good hygiene, you can help treat and prevent cases of bacterial vaginosis. Always wipe from front to back after using the bathroom. This means wiping away from the vagina toward the rectum to avoid any contamination from stool.
Here are several additional tips:
Change your pad or tampon several times per day during your period.
Always clean your sex toys with soap and hot water.
Assume that your partner also has the bacteria on their sex organs, and you may both need to be treated.
Vaginal pH and Infections
What is vaginal pH?
pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline (basic) a substance is. The scale runs from 0 to 14. A pH of less than 7 is considered acidic, and a pH of more than 7 is basic.
What does any of this have to do with your vagina? The pH level of your vagina — whether it’s acidic or basic — plays an important part in determining whether it’s healthy.
What is a normal vaginal pH?
A normal vaginal pH level is between 3.8 and 4.5, which is moderately acidic. However, what constitutes a “normal” pH level can vary slightly based on your stage of life. For example, during your reproductive years (ages 15 to 49), your vaginal pH should be below or equal to 4.5. But before menstruation and after menopause, a healthy pH tends to be higher than 4.5.
So why does vaginal pH matter? An acidic vaginal environment is protective. It creates a barrier that prevents unhealthy bacteria and yeast from multiplying too quickly and causing infection.
A high vaginal pH level — above 4.5 — provides the perfect environment for unhealthy bacteria to grow. Having a high vaginal pH puts you at risk for infections including Bacterial Vaginosis
How to check the pH of your vagina?
There are two ways to check the pH of your vagina. The first is to use a home feminine or vaginal pH test. These over-the-counter kits include a strip of pH paper and a color chart designed to help you determine your vaginal pH results. To perform the test, simply insert the pH test strip and place it against the wall of your vagina for a few seconds before then comparing the new color of the strip to the chart provided. A healthy vagina should be acidic, with a pH between 3.5 and 4.5 - this would show as a yellowish mustard color on the pH test strip. If your vagina is presenting a pH higher than 4.5, your natural flora could be imbalanced and you may be suffering from an infection such as BV. This quick and simple test can help you decide if you think you need to seek your doctor’s advice.
Bacterial Vaginosis is common among women ages 14- 44 especially those that are sexually active. This infection has no symptoms for some and could go away on its own but some may lead to complications if left untreated especially those showing the signs and symptoms. Proper Hygiene plays a big role in both prevention and treatment of BV. Maintaining a normal vaginal pH also counts as having a high or low vaginal pH balance could cause unhealthy bacteria to grow.