Bacterial Vaginosis: causes, symptoms and treatments
BV is the most frequently found vaginal condition, although many of us know very little about it. But getting a few basic facts can give us all a greater understanding of our bodies and help us take more control over our wellbeing.
What causes BV?
BV occurs when there’s a change in the natural balance of bacteria in our vaginas.
Healthy vaginas are slightly acidic, thanks to the presence of good bacteria called lactobacilli that produce lactic acid. However, if these are in short supply, harmful bacteria can grow and trigger a BV infection.
BV is very common, in fact more women in the UK suffer from it than any other vaginal condition. And it’s twice as prevalent as thrush, even though BV is often mistaken for thrush, purely because this is better known.
All these things can affect your vaginal balance and trigger BV
What are the symptoms?
Sometimes, BV can occur without showing any symptoms at all. But often it is identified by a fishy smell from the vagina; or a watery, grey or thin discharge – or even simply a larger than average amount of discharge. There’s not normally any itching, but some discomfort can be caused by an unusual discharge.
The fact is, BV symptoms vary from person to person. So if you feel something isn’t right it could be worth going to see your doctor.
Can BV be avoided?
It is not known why some of us get BV more than others, but there are ways to avoid it or stop it coming back:
- Douching – there’s no need to push water or soaps into your vagina to wash it. This will disturb the natural balance and can cause BV rather than treat it.
- Soaps and oils – avoid perfumed or antiseptic soaps and oils in the bath.
- Avoid strong detergents or perfumes when washing underwear.
- Sex without a condom – semen is alkaline and can affect the vaginal pH balance, so you can try using a condom if you get BV symptoms after sex.
- Try using a lactic acid gel such as Balance Activ® a couple of times a week or when it looks like BV might be returning, such as during a period. It helps to boost the growth of good bacteria and prevent recurrence of BV.
Here are some of the things that can trigger BV by upsetting the pH balance of your vagina:
- Douching – there’s no need
- Perfumed ‘intimate hygiene’ products
- Semen – try using a condom if it triggers BV
- Heavy periods
- Some antibiotics
- Too much washing – once a day is plenty
- Hormonal changes due to menopause or puberty
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy
- The coil
- Sex toys
- Changing soaps/washing powder
- Thongs & tights
- Synthetic clothing or wearing trousers all the time
- Having baths rather than showers
- Changing sexual partners or having a few partners at a time