Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: vagina. Vagina vagina vagina. You’ll be running across that word a lot in this article, and if it makes you uneasy, you’ll have to try get past it. There’s no need for discomfort; the vagina is a beautiful, functional, pleasure-giving thing. Unless, of course, you have bacterial vaginosis. In that case, you may understandably be uncomfortable with your vagina. Bacterial vaginosis, or BV for short, is the most common vaginal infection—yes, even ahead of yeast infections—and is especially prevalent among pregnant women. Many women with bacterial vaginosis never even know they have it because it doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. But women who do notice when they have BV usually describe highly unfriendly symptoms that include itching, burning, gray or white vaginal discharge, and a fishy odor that may be more potent after sex. That may kill any returning mood.
Because bacterial vaginosis occurs in so many women with such different habits and lifestyles, scientists have been unable to pin down all of its causes. Basically, though, BV results when the normal balance of healthy and potentially harmful bacteria in the vagina is upset, so that the number of healthy bacteria diminishes while the harmful bacteria flourish. Any number of things can trigger this imbalance, from changes in vaginal care to shifts in a woman’s emotional or psychological state, and there is no set of rules a woman can follow to guarantee she won’t get bacterial vaginosis. However, experts have identified a few specific factors that seem to consistently increase a woman’s risk of developing BV, and avoiding those is at least a place to start.
Risks Associated with Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is not a dangerous condition by itself, but untreated BV has been linked to a heightened risk of several unpleasant or even life-threatening problems. Women with persistent bacterial vaginosis are more likely to develop infections following pelvic surgeries, such as a cesarean section, hysterectomy, or abortion, and they are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In some cases, untreated bacterial vaginosis spreads to the uterus and fallopian tubes, where it becomes Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can cause permanent damage to the reproductive system. In addition, women who have BV during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to premature or underweight babies. So go talk to your doctor about some antibiotics.
Best Bacterial Vaginosis Prevention Methods
Do Not Douche
First and most importantly, please do not douche. Vaginal douching is both unnecessary and unhealthy because the vagina is structured to keep itself clean. Not only does vaginal discharge flush contaminants out of the vaginal canal, but the vagina is also constantly engaged in self-regulating its pH level and maintaining an ideal balance of the various types of microorganisms that normally live in the vagina. When douche is introduced into the vagina, it disrupts this balance, often leading directly to bacterial vaginosis. Turns out those TV commercials in the ’80s were right: douching will make you feel as fresh as a summer’s evening. A hot, sticky, mosquito-infested summer’s evening.
Use a Condom
Although bacterial vaginosis is not transmitted directly between heterosexual partners during sex, researchers have noted that women are more likely to get bacterial vaginosis when they have a new sexual partner or if they have more than one partner. Why this should be true is one of the many things about BV that is not well-understood, but it could be that each new penis that enters the vagina brings with it new and exotic microorganisms that challenge the vagina’s ability to keep itself chemically and biologically balanced. Whatever the reason, though, it’s clear that women who practice sexual abstinence or monogamy and use a condom when they do have sex with a new partner are at a lower risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.
Women who smoke are more than twice as likely as nonsmokers to get BV. Multiple studies have demonstrated this link between cigarette smoking and bacterial vaginosis, and some researchers believe that smoking has a direct effect on the types of microorganisms that can live in the vagina. If this is the case, it makes sense that smoking could make it more difficult for the vagina to maintain the balance of bacteria and flora it needs to prevent infections like bacterial vaginosis. So, if you needed a more immediate reason to quit smoking than cancer or heart disease, there it is.
Practice Good Hygiene
If you want to avoid bacterial vaginosis, practice good genital hygiene. That means letting the inside of the vagina do its thing without any help from you while you take care of the outside—the vulva. And even that doesn’t require a lot of fuss. The vulva should simply be washed every day or two with gentle soap (like Summer’s Eve cleansing wash at Amazon) and water. Then, between showers or baths, you can keep the vulva dry by wearing underwear and pants made of natural fibers that don’t restrict air flow. The types of bacteria associated with BV are anaerobic, meaning they can live without oxygen, so if there’s air circulating around that region, anaerobic bacteria may find it harder to stage a hostile takeover. Finally, try to remember to wipe from front to back when you use the bathroom to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the vaginal opening.
Once a woman has had BV, there’s a decent chance she’ll get it again. One way to avoid recurrent bacterial vaginosis is to make sure you take every single dose of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, even after your symptoms have disappeared. When you’re on antibiotics, you’ll often start feeling better once the medicine has killed some, but not all, of the guilty bacteria. However, if you stop taking the antibiotics at that point, before they’ve had a chance to completely wipe out the problem, the remaining bacteria get a second chance to multiply and put you right back where you started.
Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment
If you’re experiencing bacterial vaginosis symptoms, you should visit a doctor who can make a positive diagnosis. Once you’ve been officially diagnosed with BV, you will almost certainly be sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. Three types of antibiotics—metronidazole, clindamycin, and tinidazole—are commonly prescribed to treat bacterial vaginosis. All of these except tinidazole, which is only available in pill form, can be taken either orally or vaginally. While vaginal creams or gels usually cause fewer side effects than oral antibiotics, they may also be less effective and can weaken condoms or diaphragms. Your doctor should take your individual circumstances into consideration when choosing which medicine to prescribe.
Best Natural Cures for Bacterial Vaginosis
If you’d rather not take antibiotics to treat bacterial vaginosis, you can always try waiting it out. In some cases, the vagina manages to restore its own balance, and symptoms disappear without treatment. However, because of the risks associated with untreated BV, this approach should be abandoned if symptoms don’t start to fade within a few days.
Garlic has natural antibacterial properties that make it a logical treatment for bacterial vaginosis. You can use garlic by eating lots of it, either solo and raw or cooked with other food; by taking a commercial garlic supplement (like these sold at Amazon); or by wrapping a whole peeled clove in a clean piece of thin cloth and inserting it into your vagina. Be careful with this last option, though: garlic has been known to cause burns during extended contact.
Yogurt has long been the quintessential natural treatment for bacterial vaginosis because it contains Lactobacillus, which is bacteria of the same genus as some of the “good” kinds of bacteria that are in short supply during a bout of BV. Many women swear by it even though scientific studies have recently shown that the Lactobacillus in yogurt is not a species that lives in the vagina. If you decide to do your own research on this treatment, be sure you use all-natural, plain yogurt with no added sugars. You have the option of eating the yogurt or spreading it inside your vagina, but if you don’t notice a reduction in symptoms within a couple of days, you should go to a doctor.