Many of you probably have heard of bacterial vaginosis - an uncomfortable condition that can cause irritation and abnormal vaginal discharge. However, it’s still common to mistake it for a vaginal yeast infection. Both infections have similar symptoms, but different root causes. So, let’s see what bacterial vaginosis is, how to prevent and treat the condition, and how it’s different from a vaginal yeast infection.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection that can affect every woman. A healthy vaginal flora contains good bacteria called lactobacillus. It keeps vaginal flora slightly acidic to prevent the growth of fungus and harmful microorganisms. When something disrupts natural flora, lactobacillus levels drop, creating a breeding ground for bad bacteria.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis
It’s likely for a woman to be asymptomatic, in fact, as much as 50% of people who have bacterial vaginosis don’t show any symptoms. The other half might experience a few or most of the symptoms, such as:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge. Watery white, greyish, or green discharge followed by fishy smell, which increases after sex.
- Painful urination and burning sensation.
- Itching and irritation.
While bacterial vaginosis is often nothing serious, you shouldn’t ignore these symptoms and consult with your doctor for the following examination.
As I mentioned before, bacterial vaginosis occurs due to changes in vaginal microflora. Now, let’s see what causes bacteria levels to change. That being said, many things can cause pH level disruption, but the most common are these:
- Sexual activity and different sexual partners. Although bacterial vaginosis isn’t classified as a sexually transmitted disease, sexual activity increases your chances of infection. You can also get bacterial vaginosis from anal and oral sex. Women in a same-sex relationship have higher risks of getting bacterial vaginosis.
- Douching and harsh products. If your doctor hadn’t recommended otherwise, douching is useless and potentially harmful. Douching inside your vagina washes off all the good bacteria, increasing bad bacteria levels. The same rule applies to harsh and highly perfumed products. In the end, they do more harm than good, so remember that your vagina is built to clean itself.
- IUD devices. An intrauterine device used as a birth control method enhances bacterial vaginosis risks. While the direct link between the condition and IUD is unclear, it can be the culprit, especially if you have irregular bleeding.
- Smoking is another cause, and we all know that smoking has countless adverse effects on our health, making the vaginal microbiome no exception.
Bacterial vaginosis vs. a vaginal yeast infection
Both bacterial vaginosis and a vaginal yeast infection depend on microorganisms found in vaginal microbiological flora. Yet they are completely different conditions - bacterial vaginosis develops due to lack of lactobacillus, while a vaginal yeast infection is caused by the candida fungus. Vaginal pH level changes can also impact a yeast infection, making it easier for fungus and harmful bacteria to proliferate.
Vaginal yeast infection
Thin, waterish, foul-smelling discharge.
Cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge, often odorless.
Pain, itching, skin tears.
Burning sensation when urinating.
Burning sensation during vaginal intercourse and urinating.
No irritation on the vulva.
Irritation and inflammation of the vulva.
Conditions also require different treatment, therefore it’s important to perform more tests to know if you have bacterial vaginosis or candida. A lot of women tend to diagnose and treat themselves with over-the-counter medicine, but if you have a different infection, the wrong treatment won’t help, and the condition might worsen.
Treatment and prevention
In most cases, bacterial vaginosis is nothing to worry about. You can easily treat it with prescription medicine. However, if left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can affect your sexual and reproductive health and increase the risks of STIs in the future. Women who suffer from bacterial vaginosis are more prone to HIV, genital herpes, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease. The condition can also cause pregnancy and birth complications such as premature birth.
But what to expect on your visit to a doctor? First of all, your gynecologist will perform standard tests - pelvic exam, check your vaginal pH levels, and health history. If tests confirm the condition, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics such as Metronidazole, Clindamycin, Tinidazole to use orally or topically. If you have a female partner, they must undergo treatment as well. Your doctor can recommend complementing treatment with over-the-counter medications such as creams, ointments, tablets, or vaginal suppository treatments. Boric acid found in most of these products helps balance vaginal pH and increase your lactobacillus levels.
However, it all comes down to prevention. You can significantly lower your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis if you take good care of your intimate hygiene habits and practice safe sex.
- Intimate hygiene - the rule of thumb here is the less, the better. When it comes to washing your genitalia, it’s recommended to use unscented, soft products that don’t disrupt your natural microflora. Avoid douching, steaming, or washing inside your vagina as that can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria. And don’t forget to wipe front to back and clean off after sex.
- Strive for organic and natural underwear and menstrual products. Anything that can disrupt your microbiome needs to go. Genial Day has a wide variety of products made from natural and organic materials to ensure your comfort and vaginal health. Our products are toxin-free, unscented, heavy metals-free, chlorine-free, and pH-balanced. But see it for yourself here.
- Practice safe sex. If you have sex with a male partner, make sure to use a condom even if you’re having oral or anal sex. Use dental dams when having sex with a female partner. If you want to enjoy safe sex, it’s recommended that you and your partner test regularly for STIs.
- Add good bacteria to your diet. You can supplement Lactobacillus levels by taking probiotics or eating more food that contains lactic acid bacteria. This group of bacteria is used to preserve and ferment food, anything from natural yogurts to fermented vegetables can help you balance vaginal pH levels.
Bacterial vaginosis is no bed of roses, and if left untreated, it can cause more severe complications along the way. Always pay attention to your body, and in case of any abnormal symptoms, don’t wait to see a doctor - it’s better safe than sorry. But if you practice proper intimate hygiene and safe sex, use natural and organic products, your chances of developing bacterial vaginosis drop significantly.
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