Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is twice as common as thrush and recurring BV can be particularly annoying. It is estimated to come back in more than half of women within three months of treatment[i] with antibiotics. Suffering from recurring symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, especially after course-after-course of antibiotics, can leave you feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious and generally a little bit helpless. But don’t worry – even persistent BV really can be quite easily managed. As well as keeping some Balance Activ in the cupboard to allow you to quickly and effectively treat your BV symptoms when they do flare up, getting to know what triggers the symptoms for you can also really help you to take control of your BV.
To help you understand the triggers, it is important to understand what BV actually is and what causes the symptoms to occur. Quite simply, BV occurs when there is a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina. In a healthy vagina, the environment is slightly acidic, thanks to the presence of good bacteria (lactobacilli) that produce lactic acid. If these are in short supply, the vagina becomes less acidic and other more harmful bacteria can grow, causing BV. BV symptoms can include; more discharge than usual (often thin or watery discharge), an unpleasant smell which is often ‘fishy’ and a vaginal itch. Bacterial vaginosis symptoms are often confused with symptoms of thrush or a ‘yeast infection’, so if you’re not sure try the online symptom checker.
More women in the UK suffer from BV than any other vaginal condition[ii], and it is not known why some women get BV more than others, but there are some common triggers that you can be aware of, and try to avoid if you can:
Soaps, Oils, perfumes
- First, ditch the douche – it’s never a good idea to force water or soap up into your vagina. It’s a self-cleaning thing and your vaginal health relies on a healthy microbiome – a delicate balance of micro-organisms in your body that work together to maintain the health and pH of the vagina. Soap, perfume, yoni oils, detergents on underwear, even hot baths can affect this natural balance. If they change the slightly acidic vaginal pH, and affect the levels of good bacteria in the vagina, you’ll start to experience the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. Never use intimate perfumes or sprays to try and mask the symptoms of BV, as they are likely to make things worse.
- Sex can be a common trigger of BV, in particular sex without a condom. Semen is alkaline, the pH of the vagina wants to be acidic, and things can get out of balance when semen is introduced. You’re also more likely to get BV if you’re changing sexual partners regularly or have more than one sexual partner at a time. Practice safe sex, use a condom if you can, and have some Balance Activ on hand to quickly get your vaginal health back into balance if you experience any symptoms of BV. It’s always a good idea to get a sexual health check at your local GUM clinic if you notice anything unusual after sex, particularly if you haven’t used a condom. Having the coil contraceptive inserted and using sex toys can sometimes trigger BV.
Hormones and Periods
- Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to avoid these triggers, but it’s worth noting that some women do experience BV due to hormonal changes around the time of their period, or when they become pregnant or go through the menopause. It’s important to be aware of what’s normal for you and take note of any changes that occur to your discharge or your smell, in particular if you’re pregnant or during the menopause. Have some Balance Activ on hand if you tend to experience BV around the time of your period, it can just help keep things in balance and maintain your vaginal health. You should make an appointment with your nurse or doctor if you are worried about any changes to your discharge, or notice any unusual symptoms, particularly if you are pregnant as you will need to be seen by a healthcare professional.
- Although antibiotics can be an effective BV treatment, they can also act as a trigger for it, as they can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in the vagina and change the vaginal pH level. In fact, BV often recurs after treatment with antibiotics. Try a treatment such as Balance Activ to help encourage the growth of good bacteria after you’ve taken antibiotics, and get your vaginal health back in balance.
- These definitely can’t be avoided, but some kinds of clothes can act as a trigger for BV, and it could be worth considering some alternatives. Clothes that can affect vaginal health include synthetic, tight clothes such as thongs, tight knickers or trousers. It’s also worth noting whether you’ve recently changed your laundry detergent as strong perfumes can upset the balance in your vagina, and could be causing a bout of BV.
- Knowing what’s normal for you in terms of your discharge and how you normally smell, can help you identify symptoms of a bacterial infection such as BV or a condition like thrush. By recognising your own bacterial vaginosis symptoms, you can learn to identify what might be triggering it, and if possible, you can make some small changes to your lifestyle that will have a big impact on your vaginal health.
Click here to find out more about BV, including symptoms and bacterial vaginosis treatments.
[ii] JD Wilson et al, Recurrent bacterial vaginosis: the use of maintenance acidic vaginal gel following treatment. International Journal of STD & AIDS. 2005;16: 736-738