Bacterial Vaginosis & Yeast Infections affect millions of women each year. In many cases a quick trip to the store or to the doctors office for medication is enough to cure the problem. However, there are many women out there who will only be cured for a short period of time and then their symptoms return & become chronic. Before you know it repeated trips to the doctor or the store do not result in a permanent resolution to the problem & it can be extremely frustrating. I’ll highlight some tips and products that may help you get back on track to having a healthy vagina.
Step 1. Symptoms & Diganosis
It’s important to know what you have.
Symptoms of a yeast infection:
- Odd discharge
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis:
- Odd colored discharge(yellow, grey, green)
- “Foul” odor(examples: fishy, rotten meat or eggs, dirty gym socks).
There are also people who only have chronic itching & irritation only on the exterior of the vagina. This could still be a sign of a yeast, fungal infection or bacterial infection & it would be wise to follow the treatments steps below.
Many times the differences between a yeast infection & bacterial infection is a strong odor, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For accurate diagnosis it is probably best to seek a doctors opinion.
Step 2. Treatment
Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment
You need to treat whatever acute infection is present before you can move on to more permanent solutions of prevention. Usually with bacterial vaginosis antibiotics are given to the patient, which are taken(usually orally) for 7 – 10 days. If you do not want to take antibiotics or do not have immediate access to a doctor you can try a douche mixture of 1 tablespoon(or 15ml) hydrogen peroxide to 1 quart(or 1 liter) of distilled water. Repeat this for 7 – 10 days. Normally douches are not recommended & it is definitely not recommended you use this as a regular treatment. The bacteria that reside in the vagina normally produce hydrogen peroxide themselves. Douching the vagina will clear out both good & bad bacteria, this method is used to rid yourself of bad bacteria that have overrun the good bacteria. If you do not have a douche handy, you can try Cara Douche Syringe Bulb, it’s got pretty good reviews on Amazon.com.
Yeast Infection Treatmeant
Most stores will offer a variety of yeast infection treatments. You’re welcome to try any of them you like. Many have reported more success with longer duration treatments, for example using Monistat 7 instead of Monistat 3. In some cases yeast can be extremely resilient and may not be knocked out entirely by many of the products on the store shelves. In this situation you might want to try Gyne-Lotrimin 7, which has clotrimazole, a very potent anti-fungal medication(yeast is part of the fungus family). Gyne-Lotrimin 7 is an off the shelf product but is not carried in many stores.
For those experiencing external vaginal itching it still would not hurt to try treatment with Gyne-Lotrimin 7 just to rule out a mild, but resilient yeast infection.
If all else fails you will want to talk to your doctor to see if there is anything more potent or to verify you have a yeast infection.
Step 3. Prevention
If all has gone well you should be rid of your current infection be it bacterial or yeast based. If you are not you may have a yeast infection instead of a bacterial infection, or vice versa, or you may not have either and should seek medical guidance to ensure you are not dealing with something entirely different.
Prevention breaks down into two steps, supplementation & habits.
Step 3a. Preventative Supplements
Vaginal Probiotics (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
Your vagina has an eco-system all it’s own. It’s actually somewhat similar to the digestive tract as it relies on healthy bacteria called probiotics to maintain the healthy eco-system. The most common strain of probiotic found in the vagina is L. Acidophilus. L. Acidophilus creates hydrogen peroxide in the vagina, which kills off bad bacteria. It does so in small, controlled amounts so as to not kill off the good bacteria as well. When you take antibiotics or use a douche usually it will wipe out all the good bacteria as well as all the bad bacteria. This can set you up for chronic recurring problems because your vagina will essentially be defenseless to foreign bacteria or yeast. Even if you haven’t taken antibiotics recently & you do not douche you can suffer imbalances which may cause the loss of healthy bacterial flora.
So the question is, how do you restore healthy flora back to the vagina? Many times you will hear from friends or even doctors to “eat more yogurt” or “take probiotics”. This actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you are taking these probiotics orally you are very unlikely to see vaginal benefits. The digestive tract is not in anyway connected to the vagina. The digestive tract will not absorb probiotics into the blood stream and transport them to vagina. The only plausible scenario I have heard that allows probiotics from the digestive tract to cross to the vagina is through anal-vaginal crossover. Essentially relying on fecal residue either on the skin or on underwear to find it’s way into the vagina. This is not a reliable or quick way to restore healthy vaginal flora and many many women have found out that eating a bunch of yogurt or taking an oral probiotic has done nothing to improve their condition.
The solution here is introducing probiotics directly to the vagina itself, bypassing the digestive tract altogether. The only problem is that there hasn’t been a lot of research in developing a vaginal probiotic suppository, at least in the USA. If you live in Canada or Austrialia you might want to look for the products EcoVag or GynOphilus. You might be able to find these through overseas pharmacies if you’re in the USA, but it will be costly for transportation.I am not quite sold on EcoVag or GynOphilus mainly due to their cost.
It’s important to realize that probiotics are rated by CFUs(Colony Forming Units), the more CFUs the higher the likelihood the bacteria will set up shop. However, too much bacteria could lead to irritation & be counterproductive. There are many probiotic products on the market that tout they have billions of CFUs in them. Billions of CFUs are fine for the digestive tract as it’s extremely long, many many times longer than a vagina. The vagina needs only a fraction of the bacteria that’s required for the digestive tract. EvoVag & GynOphilus have 25 million CFUs which is an appropriate amount, but again the cost is something to consider. You can easily spend $20 – $30 for 10 doses, which is pretty pathetic when all you’re getting 250 million CFUs worth of probiotics.
The best alternative I have found is Nature’s Bounty Acidophilus. It has 100 million CFUs, which is more than EcoVag’s 25 million CFUs, but not enough to be overwhelming. The size is similar to EcoVag& the cost is much much lower than EcoVag. I am talking orders of magnitudes lower. You can get approximately 400 Nature’s Bounty Acidophilus pills for the price of 10 EcoVag pills. You don’t have to buy this brand if you don’t want to. You can track down a different brand of Lactobacilus Acidophilus or Lactobacilus Gaseri. Just make sure it doesn’t have more than 100 million CFUs in it or any sugars, sugar alcohols or Fructooligosaccharides(FOS).
To use the probiotic pills directly, you will want to insert one capsule, deeply into the vagina, every other night for two weeks. You can then drop back down inserting a capsule once or twice per week. During your period you can stop using the capsule. You can probably keep this regimen going for as long as you’d like. It is possible you may need to continue this regimen long term to maintain vaginal health.
If you have a lot of itching or burning while taking probiotics vaginally, stop taking them. There may be mild itching or burning after insertion, but this should go away & not linger.
Oral Probiotics (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
As I mentioned above oral probiotics are not very effective at preventing bacterial vaginosis or yest infections. It is still probably a good idea to take one though. Oral probiotics aid the immune system & may improve your digestion. Additionally, if there is anal-vaginal bacterial cross-over, having a lot of good bacteria involved is better than not having any at all.
You could actually take the Nature’s Bounty Acidophilus orally, but you probably would need to take quite a few pills daily. I would recommended at least 5. You might look into taking a higher potency probiotic such as Align or Renew Life Ultimate Vaginal Support.
You can also eat yogurt, but you will want to avoid yogurts that are high in sugar or corn syrup, have artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, stabilizers or other weird gunk. Yogurts to avoid are things like Yoplait or Light & Fit, which are essentially “dessert yogurts” & are not going to be keys to healthy anything. Your best bet is to look for an organic yogurt that is lightly sweetened with honey or cane sugar. You could also go about replacing sour cream in your diet with plain yogurt as they have similar flavor profiles.
AZO Natural Yeast Symptom Prevention & Relief (optional)
AZO is an herbal supplement that many women recommend for helping to prevent, as well as relieving, yeast infection symptoms. It’s also inexpensive and worth trying. Good reviews on Amazon.com as well.
Cranberry Extract (optional)
Cranberry extract is mainly helpful for preventing urinary tract infections. It is not directly related to the treatment of yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, but lowering the chances of urinary tract infections will also lend to a healthier vagina. Reducing areas where bad bacteria can propagate and cause problems is always a good thing. AZO makes a cranberry extract, which also has good reviews.
If you are not already taking a multi-vitamin, then now would be a good time to start. There are many multivitamins on the market. You could try Rainbow Light’s Women’s One or whatever is available at your local store. I’d suggest getting one online that has good reviews. Taking vitamins will help boost your immune system, which may help fight off or prevent infection.
Step 3b. Preventative Habits
Preventative habits are things you can do to help prevent future reinfection.
- Do not continually use a douche.
- Do not use vaginal wipes or products like Vagisil, as these only mask the problem.
- Wipe front to back after bowel movements & urination. Being sure to avoid the vagina.
- Avoid scented tampons, pads or pantyliners. Look for hypoallergenic products.
- Switch to sanitary pads instead of tampons, at least during or after treatment.
- Avoid overly washing the vagina.
- Avoid deodorant soaps around the vagina. Look for castile soaps which are made from natural oils.
- Avoid tight restrictive clothing, especially around the crotch area.
- Wear cotton panties, avoiding synthetic fiber based panties.
- Change panties daily.
- During treatment it may be a good idea to invest in some cheap cotton panties which can be washed in hot water with bleach. Be sure to rinse well & dry well. This should ensure bacteria / yeast are killed. Warm laundry water is lukewarm & laundry soap is usually not anti-bacterial.
- Use an unscented/allergy sensitive laundry soap.
- Avoid sexual activities during treatment.
- Avoid risky sexual behavior such as anal sex or multiple sexual partners shortly after treatment.
- Even after treatment if you engage in risky sexual behavior you may be more susceptible to recurrent infection.
- Ensure your sexual partner(s) are clean and not suffering from yeast, fungal or bacterial infections themselves.
- Avoid lubricants that contain Glycerin as bacteria & yeast can feed off of it. Try Astroglide Glycerin & Paraben Free or Pjur Silicone Lubricant.
- Bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections & urinary tract infections are usually not caused by sexual activity unless one engages in risky behavior. You do not need to be sexually active to obtain an infection. Bacteria & fungi are all around us, there is no need to assume someone is involved in risky behavior because of an infection.
- Reduce sugar intake. Sugar can be absorbed by the blood and sugars do show up in the vagina. Avoid sugary sodas, juices or coffee drinks. Bacteria & yeast love sugar just as much as we do.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise will burn off sugar as energy, ensure proper blood flow to all parts of your body & is good for overall health.
- Be sure to shower & dry immediately after exercising.
- Avoid public pools, hot tubs & exercise equipment while doing treatment.
If you still do not have relief after going through these treatments, then you may have an issue that needs to be looked at by a dermatologist to see if you might be suffering from a skin disorder such as Vaginal Lichen Planus.
Hopefully this information has been useful to you and if you have anything to add, please do leave a comment below.