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Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection. What ways can women treat this condition at home?

As many as 1 in 4 women in the United States have bacterial vaginosis (BV). Many have no symptoms, and some mistake their symptoms for another infection, such as a yeast infection.

The most common symptom of BV is a foul-smelling, fishy odor coming from the vagina. Some women also experience itching, burning, or an unusual gray discharge.

Antibiotics can treat most cases of BV. Some women prefer to try home remedies first, while others find that BV continues to recur after multiple rounds of antibiotics.

This article explores some home remedies for bacterial vaginosis. These may help to:

  • fight BV
  • reduce its severity
  • stop it returning

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A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms of BV are accompanied by itching, burning, or pain.

The vagina is home to a complex colony of organisms that maintain vaginal health and its chemical pH. When vaginal pH or bacteria change, the vagina is more vulnerable to infections, including BV.

A BV infection suggests that something has upset the balance of the vaginal chemistry. Addressing this underlying cause can help treat it and reduce the risk of it returning.

BV rarely causes serious symptoms, so most women who want to try home remedies for bacterial vaginosis can safely do so. In some instances, though, symptoms of BV warrant immediate medical treatment.

Women who suspect they have BV should see a doctor if:

  • They are pregnant: BV is linked to preterm labor, miscarriage, low birth weight, and other pregnancy complications. Prompt treatment can reduce the risk. Moreover, some home remedies for BV, such as the use of essential oils, may not be safe for pregnant women.
  • There are other symptoms: A burning sensation during urination, intense pain, blood discharge, or similar symptoms may suggest something other than BV.
  • They develop a fever: This also points to another infection.
  • They experience intense burning or itching.
  • Home remedies have failed: Some other infections can mimic BV. Untreated, these infections can get much worse.
  • They are unsure whether the problem is BV: Women with a history of recurring yeast infections, for example, should see a doctor before beginning home treatment. Some companies now sell over-the-counter vaginal tests, which may be an option for women unsure of the cause of their symptoms.

In most cases, a doctor can easily diagnose BV. A short course of antibiotics should clear up the infection. These antibiotics rarely produce significant side effects.

BV can spread between sexual partners. So, a woman who thinks she has BV should abstain from sex, or practice safer sex with a condom, until the infection is gone.

Sexual practices that disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina may also trigger an outbreak of BV. Strategies that lower the risk include:

  • Never transition from anal to vaginal sex: This can transfer fecal material to the vagina, causing BV. Change condoms before going from anal to vaginal intercourse, and never place anything in the vagina that has been in the anus without washing with soap and warm water.
  • Using a condom during sexual intercourse: When semen mixes with vaginal fluids, it can make the smell of an existing BV infection worse.
  • Urinating immediately after intercourse: After urinating, rinse the vagina and vulva with clear water. In some women, sexual fluids and lubricants change the delicate pH balance of the vagina, making them more vulnerable to a BV infection.

Condoms may be purchased over-the-counter or online.

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Wearing breathable cotton underwear will help maintain good vaginal hygiene.

Because BV can cause a foul-smelling odor, many women mistakenly believe it is due to poor hygiene. This is a myth.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ that does not require douches, soaps, or perfumes. In fact, the use of these products can alter vaginal pH. This increases vulnerability to BV and may produce a foul-smelling odor in itself.

To reduce the risk and avoid exacerbating an existing infection:

  • Avoid using any scented products on the vagina, including scented tampons or soaps. Various brands of safe, unscented soaps can be purchased online.
  • Do not douche, as this alters vaginal chemistry and can use scented products that may cause irritation.
  • Wash the vagina with water only and never insert soap into the vagina. It is usually safe to use unscented soap on the vulva.
  • Wear breathable cotton underwear.
  • Wipe from front to back, as this will avoid sweeping fecal matter into the vagina. Never use objects that have been in the anus, such as sex toys, in the vagina.
  • Keep the vaginal area dry. Avoid sitting in wet swimwear or underwear, and gently pat the vagina dry after a shower.
  • Wash hands before touching the vagina, especially if inserting objects, such as tampons or menstrual cups.

Probiotics help the body grow beneficial bacteria. These can fight unhealthy bacteria and fungi, such as yeast.

Natural probiotics can support the bacterial colony that keeps the vagina healthy. These include:

  • yogurt
  • fermented foods
  • some cottage cheeses

A probiotic supplement may also help. Compare various probiotic supplements online.

Women experiencing pain associated with BV can try cooling probiotic tampons.

To do this, women can try freezing unflavored plain yogurt in a tampon applicator, then inserting it into the vagina. The cooling sensation temporarily alleviates pain, and the probiotic may fight the underlying infection.

Increasingly, researchers are taking seriously the power of folk medicine to fight BV. A person may want to consider one of the following strategies:

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar may help balance vaginal pH. Rinsing the vulva in a solution of 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water twice per day may alleviate symptoms.

Honey, which has natural antimicrobial properties, may boost the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is available in different forms, including as a supplement.

Garlic

Some research suggests that garlic is a natural antibacterial. Adding it to the diet or taking a garlic supplement can reduce the risk of BV.

However, it is important that it is only eaten. People should not insert garlic into the vagina, as it will burn the tender skin.

Boric acid

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Eating garlic can reduce the risk of BV because it can act as a natural antibacterial.

Research suggests that boric acid can fight BV, particularly in women who have recurring infections.

In one 2009 research, researchers supplemented antibiotic treatment with 600 mg of boric acid inserted directly into the vagina. Women who used boric acid had higher cure rates than those who did not. The study cautions, however, that further research is needed to validate this as a home remedy for BV.

Before considering purchasing boric acid suppositries, seek advice from a doctor if considering any.

Pregnant women should not use home remedies.

Tea tree oil

A limited body of research suggests that application of tea tree oil might treat symptoms of BV. It may also help some other infections, such as yeast.

People can be allergic to tea tree oil. To test for a reaction, rub a little on the forearm. If there is no reaction in 24-48 hours, it may be useful. However, the oil can burn. Importantly, people should remember that it is not safe for pregnant women. Women considering purchasing tea tree oil treatments should consult a doctor first.

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