Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in the world. Below we have the most common symptoms as well as some at-home remedies that may help relieve the odor, itch, and discharge.
Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms
Most women describe the vaginal discharge as appearing whitish-gray or green in color with a thin consistency. It’s usually one of the first symptoms you’ll notice with BV. It’s certainly a tell-tale sign that something isn’t right with your vagina.
Without a doubt, the most embarrassing symptom associated with BV is the pungent, “fishy” vaginal odor. It might be tempting to try feminine sprays, douches, or scented soap to remove the odor, but this will only aggravate the infection.
If you’ve noticed a slight burning sensation in your vagina while peeing, you have another common symptom. It can also be a sign of a urinary tract infection or a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have this particular symptom.
Can I Treat Bacterial Vaginosis at Home?
As with all health concerns, there are degrees of severity when it comes to BV. If you’re familiar with the symptoms you may be able to treat it from home. If it’s your first time with symptoms you should talk to your doctor first. You should also talk to your doctor if your symptoms aren’t going away even after trying home remedies.
That being said, there are quite a few home remedies for BV out there. Some are better than others but that doesn’t mean none of them work. Instead of trying endless remedies blindly, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite options right here for you. Give them a try and see what works for you.
How to Treat BV (At Home)
Boric acid: Boric acid suppositories have been used as a treatment for vaginal infections like BV for a long time. With the introduction of antifungal creams and antibiotics, boric acid usage inevitably dropped. However, its popularity is beginning to rise once more, especially amongst women suffering from chronic forms of BV.
Probiotics: If you prefer taking a more holistic approach to your feminine health you can try taking a probiotic supplement. You should look for supplements that contain high doses of lactobacilli, the species of beneficial bacteria found naturally in the vagina.
Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is known for having powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. That’s why it’s often used in acne treatments, soap, and other household products. When diluted into a carrier oil tea tree oil has the potential to be effective against BV. More research still needs to be done before confirming a success rate.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV): Apple cider vinegar is another household staple with antibacterial properties. It is believed that it can help treat BV by raising the acidity level of the vagina. To use ACV at home, it’s recommended that you add 2 cups of vinegar to the bath and soak for 20 minutes once per day until the infection improves.
When Is It Serious Enough to Visit a Doctor?
If you’ve never had BV before, you need to make an appointment with your doctor right away. This is especially important if you have a new sexual partner, as some STIs have similar symptoms to BV.
You should seek medical attention if:
- A fever (101 degrees F) develops alongside your other symptoms. This can be a sign of the infection spreading, or that it’s caused by something other than BV.
- The infection hasn’t responded to any treatments. That includes both a reputable alternative treatment like boric acid or a prescription medication. You might have a more stubborn infection needing stronger medication.
- You’re pregnant. Some medications and home treatments can pose a risk to the developing fetus.
How does a Doctor Diagnose BV?
To determine if your symptoms are caused by Bacterial vaginosis there are a few steps that your doctor might take. Let’s go over each step-in detail, so you will have an idea of what to expect at your upcoming doctor’s appointment.
Pelvic Exam: Your doctor will likely start by requesting a pelvic exam so they can look for observable signs of infection. They will also want to check your pelvic organs for signs of infection.
Medical History: Just like with any other health concern, your doctor will want to know your medical history. Health conditions like diabetes or a compromised immune system make you more susceptible to developing vaginal infections. Similarly, your doctor will want to know if you have treated any vaginal infections or sexually transmitted infections in the past.
Vaginal pH Test: As a pH level of 4.5 or higher is a good indicator of BV. Your doctor will likely test your vaginal pH level. This is done by inserting a pH test strip into your vagina and matching the result to the corresponding level on a chart.
Testing of Vaginal Discharge: As you already know, your vagina is home to both beneficial and anaerobic bacteria. To observe for signs of active, harmful bacteria living within your vaginal discharge, your doctor will take samples during the pelvic exam. Those will later be studied under a microscope to look for vaginal cells that are affected with bacteria.
Causes of BV
Your vagina usually has a happy balance of good and bad bacteria. When that is disrupted an infection results. That’s the root cause of BV. Your vagina’s balance of bacteria can be thrown off by a variety of things. Here are a few reasons you may be experiencing this imbalance.
Vaginal douching: Douching might make you feel cleaner, but it actually disrupts the natural balance of bacteria. This makes you more susceptible to infections like BV. You could also be putting yourself at risk for more serious conditions like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). For these reasons, it’s best to just skip douching altogether.
Having multiple sexual partners: Women who have sex with more than one partner (male or female) are more at risk for developing BV. This is due to the exposure from different types of bacteria from each partner. You can help counteract this by using condoms with all of your sexual partners.
How Common Is BV?
Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common vaginal infections affecting women of reproductive age. According to the CDC , an estimated 21.2 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 are affected by BV in the United States.
In 80% of cases, antibiotics will successfully treat the infection. Only up to 50% of women will report a recurrence of BV within the first year following treatment. If this happens to you, your doctor may prescribe a longer treatment of antibiotics to be taken for up to 6 months.
Alternatively, your doctor might prescribe boric acid suppositories, which have been proven to be an effective treatment against BV.
Risks of BV
Generally speaking, BV is a mild infection and shouldn’t cause any major problems. In some cases, it might even clear up on its own before you’ve realized you had an infection! However, like with most things in life, there are exceptions to the rule. Here are the most common risks associated with having BV:
- If BV is left untreated, you are more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections like HIV or Chlamydia.
- Miscarriage or early labour, if the infection occurs during pregnancy.
- Pelvic infections are more likely to occur following procedures affecting the pelvic area (such as an abortion, hysterectomy, or a caesarean section).
- A severe pelvic infection known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID can occur in some women with untreated cases of BV. This condition affects a woman’s reproductive system and can lead to permanent infertility. It also increases the likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy if you are trying to conceive.
Studies and Further Reading
This ongoing study from The University of British Columbia is the first study of its kind to determine how intravaginal boric acid measures up against metronidazole in treating bacterial vaginosis. While the study hasn’t reached completion as of yet, they are estimating a 77-88% success rate for the boric acid treatment group vs. 70-80% for the group using metronidazole to treat their BV.
BV’s Impact on Self-Esteem
When BV is difficult to treat and turns into a recurrent problem, it can start impacting a woman’s social wellbeing and self-esteem. This study, published in 2013, takes a closer look at the emotional impact recurrent BV has on women and hopes to bring more awareness to the medical field and women worldwide.
BV & Women in Same-Sex Relationships
Although it’s not completely understood why, bacterial vaginosis is more common in bisexual and lesbian women than it is in heterosexual women. This study from the UK set out to determine how true that claim was in a community-type setting. To do this, they took samples of vaginal flora from both heterosexual women and lesbian women and ultimately found that lesbian women were 2.5 times more likely to develop BV than their heterosexual counterparts.
Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common vaginal infections affecting women worldwide. While the symptoms associated with BV can feel overwhelming or embarrassing, it is usually easy to treat, and it shouldn’t take long for you to feel some relief after starting a suitable treatment plan.
If your symptoms persist following treatment, you should make a follow-up appointment with your doctor to discuss alternative medication or additional testing to rule out other possible causes.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.