BV is a common condition that often leads to abnormal vaginal discharge and a foul odor from the vagina.
Anaerobic bacteria along with other aerobic microorganisms, are often the root cause of this common vaginal condition. As with any condition, you can easily find home remedies online promising to treat bacterial vaginosis and clear up these symptoms.
To help ensure you properly treat and eliminate BV, in this article, I’ll explain what bacterial vaginosis is, the symptoms and causes of BV, home remedies, and prescription treatments, and how to prevent BV.
Home Remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis
If you suspect you may have bacterial vaginosis, you should seek medical treatment, particularly if you are pregnant.
While you may be tempted to try natural home remedies, many of these are unproven, and some may be harmful.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the most common natural remedies for BV.
There’s limited research that proves that consuming yogurt can help treat BV.
You also should never put yogurt into your vagina, as this can worsen symptoms by promoting bacterial growth.
Some research work has been done to study the effects of probiotics on the vaginal microbiome.
Some of the study results have shown that taking natural probiotic supplements or probiotic-rich foods containing lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, or lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 may help treat or prevent bacterial vaginosis.
If you wish to opt for the use of probiotics, do your research on different brands.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, so some vaginal probiotics may not contain the ingredients that they advertise on their labels.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
Although some evidence suggests that the bacteria that cause BV might be susceptible to tea tree oil, there hasn’t been enough studies to suggest this is an effective treatment.
The use of boric acid suppositories for treating bacterial vaginosis has also been studied. Research suggests that using boric acid suppositories along with the medication metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-Vaginal) or tinidazole (Tindamax) may help prevent recurrent bacterial vaginosis.
But talk to your doctor before you try this or combine any home remedy and medication.
Two small studies suggest using hydrogen peroxide solution as a vaginal wash may help clear up vaginal odor, improve discharge, and restore vaginal pH in patients with BV.
However, as with many other home remedies, this isn’t enough evidence to recommend trying this.
Garlic is a common home remedy that may help treat infections like BV. One study looked at inserting garlic supplements vaginally to treat bacterial vaginosis. Although this treatment appeared to be as effective as metronidazole, this isn’t a green light to put garlic in your vagina. It is best to incorporate it into your foods or opt for garlic supplement tablets.
Some herbs may have strong antibacterial properties. In one study, patients used a vaginal cream infused with the extract of calendula officinalis, an herb commonly known as pot marigold. The participants in the study found it as effective at treating BV as metronidazole, but at this point, we need further research before doctors can recommend using it.
Apple cider vinegar
Some people douche with apple cider vinegar or mix it into a bath to treat BV and other vaginal infections.
But there is no clinical evidence to suggest the use of apple cider vinegar treats the condition or relieves any symptoms. In fact, douching with apple cider vinegar can worsen your infection.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection among women of reproductive age in the United States. Some people mistake it for a urinary tract infection, but it’s not.
Also, it shouldn’t affect your self-esteem as it is mostly not caused by poor hygiene. Healthy people with vaginas have both good and bad forms of bacteria and fungi living inside their vaginas.
Good bacteria, like lactobacillus, protect against harmful microbes by producing enough hydrogen peroxide, lactic acid, and other substances to keep the vaginal environment acidic and inhospitable to them.
When a woman’s vaginal pH becomes unbalanced or disrupted, her levels of healthy bacteria decline, and her natural defenses against harmful microbes weaken. Fungi and bad bacteria can then proliferate inside the vagina and cause inflammation and discomfort. This is the underlying cause of vaginal infections like BV and yeast infections.
BV shares similar symptoms with yeast infections.
But, both conditions are caused by different types of microorganisms. If a fungus, like Candida Albicans, over-reproduces, it causes a vaginal yeast infection.
But, if bad bacteria take over, you have bacterial vaginosis.
Symptoms and Causes
Roughly 50% of people with BV do not experience symptoms.
Also, it often doesn’t cause severe symptoms for those that experience symptoms. Among the people that do experience symptoms, the most common symptoms of BV include:
- Thin, watery, gray, or white discharge
- A foul or fishy odor from the vagina, particularly after sexual activity or while menstruating
- Vaginal or vulvar itching
- Irritation, pain, or burning sensation during urination
BV symptoms are also similar to that of vaginal yeast infections.
The difference is that yeast infection doesn’t cause a foul odor from the vagina, and it causes thick vaginal discharge that has the consistency of cottage cheeses. BV occurs when there are more harmful bacteria than good bacteria in the vagina. This microbiome imbalance is the primary cause of BV.
Risk factors for this vaginal microbiome imbalance include:
- Having sexual intercourse with a new sexual partner
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
- Being pregnant
Although no home remedies are proven effective in treating bacterial vaginosis, you can take some actions to prevent BV and keep your vagina pH balanced and healthy.
Breathable cotton underwear
Bacteria love hot, moist environments. Since cotton is moisture-wicking and breathes, it can keep your vulva dry, helping reduce the chance of an infection.
Always wipe front to back when using the bathroom, and do not use scented tampons or other feminine hygiene products. Use caution with heavily scented soaps or bubble baths.
If you’re prone to BV, you may want to consider limiting your number of sexual partners. Also, practice safe sex by using latex condoms and dental dams.
Lastly, although BV is not a sexually transmitted disease, women with BV can pass it to their female sexual partners. So you may want to skip sexual contact until the infection clears up.
Douching can change the pH and bacterial balance of the vagina, which will only make you more susceptible to BV and other infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), douching after a BV infection may increase the risk of relapse, and it is not recommended as a treatment strategy.
The vagina is self-cleaning and doesn’t need any douching. So you shouldn’t bother to wash it with cold or warm water.
Can You Cure BV in One Day?
When you have BV, you want it to go away—now! But try to be patient.
Conventional antibiotic medications are available as a single-dose or seven-day oral medication or a five- or seven-day intravaginal treatment.
Most people who use a week-long course of antibiotics report that their symptoms subside within 2-3 days after they begin this treatment of bacterial vaginosis. Take your medication exactly as directed, even if you no longer experience symptoms.
If you stop taking your medicine early, you may experience a recurrence of BV and this time, your bacterial vaginosis symptoms may be more challenging to treat.
Other Treatment Options
There are different ways to treat different BV cases.
Once you are diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis, your doctor will likely prescribe one of the following medications to eradicate your infection and restore balance to your vaginal microbiome.
- Metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-Vaginal): Metronidazole is a strong antibiotic that can be taken in pill form or applied as a vaginal gel. It is often the first-line treatment for most cases of BV. Taken in any form, metronidazole is one of the most effective treatments for BV. Whether you take it as a pill or gel will depend on your preference. You will need to take the pill for about 7 days or apply the gel every night before bed for about 5 days. It is important that you avoid alcohol while taking this medication.
- Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse): Clindamycin is another effective treatment for vaginal bacteria. Clindamycin can also be taken orally or applied as a cream on the vagina. Your doctor may prescribe for you 300 mg of the clindamycin pill to be taken orally for 7 days. Otherwise, you insert the cream into your vagina before bedtime for 7 days.
- Tinidazole: Your doctor may recommend taking 1g of tinidazole orally for 5 days or 2g for 2 days. Tinidazole also treats vaginal infections caused by protozoa, e.g., trichomoniasis. It may be best to take it with food to prevent adverse side effects.
- Secnidazole: This is an antibiotic medication that can be taken orally – often as a single-dose medication. Even though it is not more effective than clindamycin or metronidazole, it tends to be more expensive.
Even though older scientific evidence indicates that a person’s response to treatment is not affected by the treatment of their sex partners, the CDC still advises that people use condoms for sex or refrain from sex during treatment.
Your doctor will prescribe the best treatments for you. In addition, they may also suggest some lifestyle changes such as practicing safe sex and avoiding douching. Take care to take your medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider, as overuse of antibiotics can cause yeast infection.
Risks and Complications of BV
Although some cases of bacterial vaginosis are mild enough to clear up on their own, most patients with BV risk health complications if they don’t treat their condition.
This includes a higher risk of chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as a pelvic inflammatory disease, a potentially long-term condition that can lead to infertility. Also, in some cases, a person may experience recurrent BV.
Bacterial vaginosis can be particularly detrimental to people who are pregnant. Left untreated, symptomatic BV can lead to a higher risk of premature birth and having a child with low birth weight.
When to See a Medical Provider
If you are experiencing unusual vaginal discharge, odor, or other symptoms that give you a reason to believe you have bacterial vaginosis, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice by contacting your gynecologist or healthcare provider. You will need to be screened and treated as soon as possible.
Once they test your vaginal fluid for signs of BV, they can give you proper treatment by prescribing a course of antibiotics that will treat your symptoms and restore your vaginal health.
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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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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