Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an overgrowth of atypical bacteria in the vagina leading to vaginal discharge and fishy odour. Bacterial vaginosis is not necessarily a bacterial infection; it is just an imbalance of the bacteria that is usually present in conjunction with a healthy vagina. You can follow different home remedies for BV such as include probiotics, avoid harsh soaps & toiletries in and around the vagina, safe sex, essential oil, etc., to reduce the severity and incidence of this condition.

Most women suffering from bacterial vaginosis are unaware of their condition while some of them can experience unusual vaginal discharge, burning sensation and atypical fishy odour from the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is most common in women in their reproductive age.

Bacterial vaginosis causes?

Sex

Women having multiple sex partners are at high risk of bacterial vaginosis. Unprotected sexual practice puts women in at higher risk. Bacterial vaginosis is not transmitted sexually; it is associated with having vaginal intercourse.

Douching

Douching is a practice of rinsing out your vagina with water or a cleansing agent. Women who practice douching tend to upset the natural environment of your vagina. This disruption in balance can lead to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria which is the prime cause bacterial vaginosis (1).

The decrease in essential bacteria

Lactobacillus occurs in conjunction with a healthy vagina. Lactobacillus produces lactic acid which keeps the pH of vagina acidic which keeps the number of yeast and other bacteria in check.

Women who have fewer lactobacilli bacteria are at a higher risk of acquiring bacterial vaginosis (2).

Pregnancy

Bacterial vaginosis is seen more commonly in pregnant women. It is estimated that approximately 10% – 30% of pregnant women will experience bacterial vaginosis during their pregnancy.

Contraceptives

Women with intrauterine copper tubes or copper coil have a higher chance of getting the anaerobic infection. It, however, remains a controversy whether the contraceptive pills increase or decrease the chances of developing bacterial vaginosis.

Antibiotics

Women who have been on antibiotic treatment for an extended period tend to have a decrease in the amount of essential bacteria lactobacillus in our body. They tend to be at a higher risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.

Personal hygiene

If proper care is not taken around the time of menstruation, dirty tampons and sanitary pads can increase the risk of the infection. Using perfumed bubble baths, vaginal deodorants, and perfumes, and some scented pads increase the risk of BV.

Lifestyle

The incidence of bacterial vaginosis is found to be higher in women smokers and drug abuser (3).

Signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

  • Vaginal discharge is maybe watery and thin and frequent.
  • The discharge will be either grey or white.
  • A strong and unpleasant odour characterises the discharge, often described as fishy
  • There can also be a burning sensation during micturition.
  • Itching sensation in and around the outside of the vagina is also observed though less commonly.
  • Around 60-70% of females won’t have any symptoms, but if left unattended some complications about bacterial vaginosis can arise.

Complications that can arise with untreated bacterial vaginosis

With pregnancy

Bacterial vaginosis can cause some serious complications with pregnancy can cause an early or preterm delivery and in some instances even a loss of fertility (4). The amniotic sac may break open too early in women with this condition.

Postpartum endometritis is an irritation or inflammation of the lining of the uterus is common after delivery in cases of BV. Chorioamnionitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the fetus which significantly increases the chance of early delivery.

If the newborn survives, they have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. In-vitro fertilisation is less likely to succeed if a woman has bacterial vaginosis.

Increased risk for STD

Having bacterial vaginosis can increase the susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, herpes simplex virus, chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

Infection risk

Having bacterial vaginosis may increase the risk of developing a post-surgical infection after procedures such as hysterectomy or any gynaecological surgery.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Bacterial vaginosis can sometimes cause Pelvic inflammatory disease which is an infection of the uterus and the fallopian tubes. PID increases the risk of infertility in women.

What is the conventional treatment?

Since the offending cause of the bacterial vaginosis is anaerobic bacteria, the doctor usually prescribes antibiotic metronidazole to combat these bacteria. Alternately, you can also go prescribed topical gels and creams for this condition.

Suppository, the medication that is inserted into the vagina, is prescribed for complicated cases of bacterial vaginosis. Following specific home remedies for BV will help relieve the symptoms and balance the pH of the vagina.

Home remedies for BV (bacterial vaginosis)

1. Practice safe sex

It is always advisable to practice protection during sexual intercourse. A male latex condom is the preferable variant of protection. Multiple sexual partners increase the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted disease which is aided in bacterial vaginosis.

Always try to get a brief sexual history in case of a new sexual partner. Washing the vagina after sex should be avoided as it can disrupt it’s the natural flora.

2. Do not douche!

Douching is the process of washing the vagina from inside. But you should discontinue douching as it can cause some serious complications. Certain bacteria like lactobacillus are necessary to keep the level of other bacteria and fungi in check.

Douching can irritate and eliminate these lactobacilli from the vagina, leading to the unchecked growth of other bacteria and fungi.

This overgrowth leads to bacterial vaginosis.

3. Avoid harsh alkaline soaps & other toiletries around your genitals

The skin in and around the vagina is susceptible. The vagina has self-cleansing process. It has an acidic pH that keeps the growth of bacteria in check. Using harsh alkaline soaps will disturb the pH of the vagina which can lead to irritation of the skin around the vagina.

Shaving, using perfumes, deodorants around vagina will further lead to irritation. Washing your underwear with a harsh detergent can also affect the pH.

4. Avoid overusing of tampons

You should change Pads and especially tampons three times a day at least. The scented variant pads and tampons are a big NO. Alternately, you can use panty liners for a shorter duration and towards the end of the menstruation cycle.

5. Wear breathable cotton underwear

You should avoid tight pants and unbreathable underwear. Cotton underwear is the preferred since it does not trap moisture inside. Underwear made of materials like spandex could worsen any vaginal infection, including BV.

6. Go for a shower instead of baths

Try and keep baths to a minimum and prefer showers. The bath water can enter vagina during cleansing. Also, you should avoid swimming pools during an episode of bacterial vaginosis.

7. Avoid processed food

You should try and avoid a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar. Thus, you should avoid processed foods and aerated drinks.

8. Include probiotics in your diet plan

As discussed, the lactobacillus bacteria can prevent bacterial vaginosis. Lactobacillus is healthy bacteria, to keep the lactobacillus count to optimum try and include a healthy number of probiotics in the diet.

Lactobacilli count is high in probiotics like yoghurt, kimchi, pickles and shalotta. Including this food in your diet will help in maintaining the natural flora a pH of the vagina, preventing any infection (5).

9. Essential oils

While having a shower or bath, try and incorporate essential oils like tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties owing to the active ingredient terpene-4-ol (6). 

A study has shown that tea tree oil could successfully treat bacterial vaginosis (7). You can dilute tea tree oil with any carrier such as coconut oil, olive oil, etc. Mix 4-5 drops of tea tree oil with almost one ounce of carrier oil and soak a tampon in it. Use this tampon and remove it after an hour or so. 

Note: Some people are allergic to tea tree oil. It is advisable to test tea tree oil on your skin rather than directly checking it on the soft vaginal tissue. Also, you should purchase quality tea tree oil whose purity is marked by FDA.

10. Exercise

Exercise improves the circulation throughout the body and minimises stress. Kegel exercise, the exercise of the pelvic floor will help strengthen the vagina and improve the blood flow around the area.

11. Garlic

Garlic has several benefits including potent antibacterial properties. You can use garlic supplement tablets as a home remedy for bacterial vaginosis (8).

Final words on home remedies for BV

Bacterial vaginosis is primarily treated with antibiotics. But to avoid its occurrence, the precautions and home remedies for BV should be taken on a regular basis.

Pregnant ladies should be regular with gynaecologists and inquire about the measures to take to avoid BV. The leading cause of bacterial vaginosis recurrence is improper hygiene. However, maintaining cleanliness is entirely in your hand.