Over-the-Counter Medicine for BV: What Are Your Options?

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 29, 2022

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition in the vagina.

It happens when there is an imbalance of good and bad vaginal bacteria. 

Although BV sometimes goes away on its own, having BV increases the risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so it’s best to treat it quickly. 

Treatment typically includes prescription antibiotics. 

However, because of side effects, some people wish to treat BV with alternative options. 

In this article, I’ll discuss how common BV is, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments, and the side effects of these therapies.

Lastly, I’ll discuss when to seek medical treatment for BV.

Over-the-Counter Medicine for BV

There are no FDA-approved OTC medications for BV. 

Below are other options that people often try.

Boric acid

Known for having mild antibacterial and antifungal properties, boric acid has been used to treat BV and other intravaginal ailments like yeast infections for more than 100 years.

However, it’s not been widely studied in clinical trials. 

One study added boric acid to an antibiotic gel used inside the vagina. 

After two months of treatment, 88% of the women’s infections resolved. 

At this time, medical professionals do not recommend using boric acid suppositories to treat BV.

Pregnant people should not use boric acid, as it can be toxic to fetal development.  

Probiotics

Because bacterial vaginosis occurs due to an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina, the thought process behind taking a probiotic is to promote healthy bacterial growth to crowd out the bad. 

Some studies show lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, or lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 may treat or prevent bacterial vaginosis. 

However, more research is necessary to confirm the benefits of taking probiotics for BV.

Garlic

Long known to contain antibacterial properties, some trials suggest garlic may treat BV. 

One study compared inserting garlic supplements and metronidazole (an antibiotic) to treat BV. 

The garlic supplements performed just as well as metronidazole. 

The study also suggests that vaginal creams made from garlic may be a substitute for taking metronidazole. 

However, further research is needed on this topic, so using garlic is not recommended. 

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Prescription Medicine for BV

The gold standard treatments for BV are the antibiotics metronidazole or clindamycin.

However, both have side effects and do not prevent BV’s recurrence

Metronidazole

Since the early 1980s, metronidazole has been widely used to treat BV. 

You can take it as a pill or gel. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following dosing:

  • 500-milligram (mg) oral tablet twice a day for seven days
  • One full applicator (5 grams) 0.75% gel inserted into the vagina once a day for five days

Sometimes people get a candida infection after taking metronidazole for a BV infection. 

If you notice vaginal pain, itching, or irregular discharge, tell your medical provider immediately.

Clindamycin

Clindamycin is another antibiotic used to treat BV. 

It comes in several forms, including a pill, cream, or ovule suppository (a capsule inserted into the vagina).

The CDC suggests the following dosing for treatment:

  • 300-mg oral pill twice a day for seven days
  • One full applicator (5 grams) 2% cream inserted into the vagina at bedtime for seven days
  • 100-mg ovule suppository inserted into the vagina at bedtime for three days

Clindamycin ovules contain products that might weaken condoms or diaphragms, so use other types of contraception if you have sex within 72 hours of treatment. 

Tinidazole

Tinidazole is an antibiotic used to treat BV in people who cannot tolerate metronidazole or clindamycin.

Tinidazole comes in pill form. 

The CDC recommends the following dosages:

  • 2 grams (g) orally once per day for two days
  • 1 g orally once per day for five days

Common Side Effects of BV Medications

There is the possibility of an allergic reaction with any new medication. 

The most typical symptoms of an allergic reaction include skin rashes or hives. 

Tell a medical provider if you think you have an allergic reaction.

In rare and more serious cases, you can have a reaction called anaphylaxis. 

Anaphylaxis leads to lightheadedness, throat or tongue swelling, and trouble breathing. 

This reaction is a medical emergency. 

Of the alternative treatments, garlic was the only treatment that caused vaginal irritation for some study participants.

Antibiotics have several common side effects, including:

More severe side effects that require medical attention include:

  • Rash
  • Seizures
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Peeling or blistering skin
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Numbness, pain, tingling, or burning in your hands or feet

How Common Is BV?

BV is most common in people with vaginas between the ages of 15-44. 

While it’s unclear why, BV is more prevalent in sexually active people. 

About 21% of people in the U.S. with vaginas experience BV. 

Of those people, 84% do not experience any symptoms.

Symptoms can include:

  • Thin white or gray vaginal discharge
  • Itching, pain, or burning in the vagina
  • Fishy odor, especially after sex
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina
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When to See a Medical Provider

Untreated BV increases the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection. 

So if you notice unusual vaginal discharge, odor, pain, or itching that you believe indicates BV, contact your gynecologist or medical provider.

They will test your vaginal secretion and prescribe an appropriate course of treatment. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get treatment for BV over-the-counter?
There are no FDA-approved over-the-counter treatments for bacterial vaginosis (BV). Options such as garlic, boric acid, and probiotics have limited or no clinical studies showing they effectively treat BV. Also avoid douches or other treatments meant to treat yeast infections, as they can worsen BV. If you believe you have BV, contact your medical provider for appropriate treatment.
What is the best over-the-counter treatment for BV?
The best treatments for BV include the antibiotics metronidazole or clindamycin. These medications are only available with a prescription.
What medicine gets rid of BV?
To treat BV, your healthcare provider will prescribe one of the following antibiotics: metronidazole, clindamycin, or tinidazole.
Can I use Monistat for BV?
Monistat is a medication used to treat yeast infections. BV is an overgrowth of bacteria, so it is treated differently. Taking Monistat may worsen your BV.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.

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