You might have heard that the vagina has an ecosystem of its own, better known as a microbiome, consisting of yeast, bacteria and other microbes. When the balance of this microbiome is disturbed, it can lead to vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV), according to the Cleveland Clinic, is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in women of reproductive age. Characterized by a thin, grey, white or green vaginal discharge with a fishy odour (which shows up noticeably after sex or your period), BV symptoms also include vaginal itching and a burning sensation during urination. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS), however, mentions that around 50 percent of women with BV present with no symptoms, which makes the diagnosis of this vaginal infection even more difficult.
Causes of bacterial vaginosis
Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria that’s commonly a part of the vaginal microbiome. According to a study published in the International Journal of Microbiology in 2018, this bacteria, along with other microbes, produces lactic acid in the vagina, which provides a localised defence mechanism against bacterial or fungal infections.
Change in the microbiome, especially due to the excess or reduced growth of Lactobacillus, causes a simultaneous change in the pH of the vagina, leading to BV.
This change in the microflora usually occurs due to unhealthy practices like vaginal douching but can also occur if you have multiple sex partners or a new sex partner. If you are unwell and your vaginal microbiome is producing lesser amounts of Lactobacillus or other essential microbes, then this can also create an imbalance that can lead to BV.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology (August 2020) revealed that the introduction of penile microbiota, or the microbes present on the penis, can also cause an imbalance in the vaginal microbiome after intercourse. Women who do not have BV are likely to get it if their partner’s penile microbiota is unhealthy, especially if engaging in unprotected sex. This clearly links the occurrence of BV with sex, which previous studies were unable to.
Prevention and treatment of bacterial vaginosis
As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BV resolves on its own in a lot of cases. But if you have symptoms of BV then it’s necessary to get treated for it. Doctors usually recommend antibiotics to treat BV. Home remedies or over-the-counter products should not be used to treat BV because this can make the symptoms worse.
While BV is not contagious and can cause mild to no discomfort, it’s important to prevent it from ever happening. This is primarily because if you have BV already, the chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like chlamydia, are quite high. The following are some preventive steps you can take against BV:
- Avoid douching your vagina. Just wash your external genitalia with water and a mild, non-perfumed cleanser to keep the area clean.
- Avoid the contact of anything that has touched your anus from entering your vagina. When using toilet paper, always wipe front to back.
- Avoid sex with multiple partners.
- Avoid unprotected sex of any type, vaginal, anal or oral. Use condoms and dental dams.
- Avoid tight underwear made of synthetic material. Wear cotton underwear and keep your genitals and vagina dry.
For more information, read our article on Bacterial vaginosis.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.