Under normal circumstances, vaginal flora contains good bacteria that defend against invasive microbes, bad bacteria, and fungi. But when the vaginal pH balance is disrupted, the good bacteria decline, and with it, the vagina’s defenses. Harmful bacteria begin to reproduce rapidly, and that overgrowth becomes bacterial vaginosis (BV).
If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can put you at higher risk for other reproductive health conditions. So it’s essential to get medical advice from a gynecologist.
Most healthcare providers prescribe an antibiotic treatment to restore vaginal health, but some women wish to use homeopathic remedies such as boric acid to treat BV. Before you try this or any natural remedy, it’s important to learn what is safe and effective. In this article, I will discuss the ins and outs of using boric acid and explore other over-the-counter methods that may treat BV and promote vaginal wellness.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Healthy vaginal flora is made up of good bacteria (called lactobacilli), harmful bacteria, and candida fungi. Under normal conditions, the good bacteria secrete hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid, and other substances that keep the vagina’s pH highly acidic. When a vagina is acidic, it inhibits bad bacteria and fungi from overproducing.
But if the pH balance becomes disrupted and lactobacilli decline, an overgrowth of harmful microbes can occur. If candida fungi begin to overproduce, you can develop a vaginal yeast infection (candidiasis). If bad bacteria start to replicate, that leads to bacterial vaginosis (BV). Both of these conditions are types of vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis may be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it’s quite common. An estimated one in three American women will develop BV in their lifetime. The rate is higher for women who are sexually active, particularly those with a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners.
Symptoms and Causes
According to one research study, roughly 84% of women with bacterial vaginosis do not experience any symptoms related to the condition. For those that do, the symptoms of BV include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that is gray or white in color and thin or watery
- A fishy or foul vaginal odor, particularly after sex
- Vaginal itch
- Itching around vulva
- Pain or burning during sex or urination
However, if you experience vaginal discharge that has the consistency of cottage cheese, it’s likely that you have a yeast infection, not BV. Similarly, pain during urination is more likely a sign of a urinary tract infection than BV, particularly when that symptom is accompanied by a frequent urge to pee. So if you have any unusual or uncomfortable symptoms, talk to your OB-GYN, who can properly diagnose and treat your condition.
Although researchers aren’t sure what causes BV, women are at higher risk for developing the condition if they:
- Have a new sexual partner
- Have multiple sexual partners
- Have an intrauterine birth control device (IUD)
- Have a female sexual partner
- Don’t use condoms or dental dams
- Use douches, scented tampons, or other feminine hygiene products that can cause vaginal irritation
Doctors do not consider BV to be a sexually transmitted infection. Still, sometimes a partner’s natural body chemistry is enough to disrupt your vagina’s pH and encourage harmful bacteria to grow.
What Is Boric Acid?
Boric acid (hydrogen borate) is an odorless, natural acidic chemical compound derived from boron. Because it has mild antibacterial and antifungal properties, generations have used it as a household cleaner, laundry detergent, and insecticide. Many also rely on boric acid as a homeopathic remedy for everyday ailments like canker sores, pink eye, minor burns, small cuts, acne, and athlete’s foot because it is relatively safe for adults to use on their bodies.
Boric Acid for BV: Does It Work?
Women have used boric acid as an intravaginal treatment for ailments like yeast infections for at least 100 years. It is inexpensive and available over the counter in small, clear gelatin capsules (called boric acid vaginal suppositories) that are inserted intravaginally, often with the help of an applicator.
Boric acid may help people with recurrent BV restore their vaginal pH. In one study, using boric acid vaginal suppositories along with antibiotics helped resolve the infection after two months of treatment in 88% of women.
However, one study is not enough evidence to suggest boric acid can treat BV. Instead, doctors recommend that women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis use an FDA-approved antibiotic prescription before using any natural homeopathic remedies.
If you wish to try boric acid, talk to your doctor before doing so and know that women who are pregnant should not use boric acid, as it can be toxic to fetal development.
Other Treatment Options
If you suspect you may have bacterial vaginosis, speak with your doctor about your concerns. Once you have a diagnosis, they will prescribe an antibiotic such as:
- Metronidazole taken orally as a pill or inserted intravaginally as a gel.
- Clindamycin inserted intravaginally as a cream.
Most people who take antibiotics to treat their BV report that their symptoms subside within 2-3 days. Continue to take your medication for as long as directed, even if you begin to feel better. If you stop your antibiotics early, your BV may come back and be more challenging to treat.
Other natural remedies beyond boric acid are touted to help treat BV and promote vaginal wellness when used in tandem with conventional medications. It’s important to remember that these homeopathic remedies are not FDA-approved and are not safe for everyone to use. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using any natural treatment to relieve your BV symptoms. This includes:
- Hydrogen peroxide: Very limited research suggests using hydrogen peroxide as a vaginal wash may help clear up odor, improve discharge, and restore balance to the vagina.
- Probiotics: Taking probiotic supplements that contain lactobacillus may help prevent or treat bacterial vaginosis. Research probiotic brands before purchasing any, though, as the FDA does not regulate supplements and some do not contain the ingredients they advertise.
Risks and Complications
Bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease. PID can lead to infertility. Pregnant women with BV are at risk of going into early labor and giving birth to infants with low birth weight.
Talk to your doctor before using boric acid for any reason. Certain drugs, herbal supplements, and over-the-counter medications can interact with boric acid and cause health complications.
Women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant should not take boric acid, as it can be toxic to fetuses and small children.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice abnormal vaginal discharge, a foul-smelling vaginal odor, or anything else that causes discomfort, make an appointment with your doctor. They can determine whether you have bacterial vaginosis or another ailment and prescribe the appropriate medication to treat your symptoms and relieve your discomfort.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Bacterial Vaginosis. (2020). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3963-bacterial-vaginosis
BASIC Study: Is Intravaginal Boric Acid Non-Inferior to Metronidazole in Symptomatic Bacterial Vaginosis? Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4514959/
Boric Acid Addition to Suppressive Antimicrobial Therapy for Recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis. (2009). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19704395/
Compound Summary: Boric Acid. (2021). https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Boric-acid
Effects of Probiotics on the Recurrence of Bacterial Vaginosis: A Review. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299970/
The Prevalence of Bacterial Vaginosis in the United States, 2001–2004; Associations with Symptoms, Sexual Behaviors, and Reproductive Health. (2007). https://journals.lww.com/stdjournal/Fulltext/2007/11000/The_Prevalence_of_Bacterial_Vaginosis_in_the.6.aspx
Probiotics for the Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis: A Meta-Analysis. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6848925/
Recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis--An Old Approach to a New Problem. (1996). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8876361/