Updated November 20, 2018.
If you’ve ever turned to Google for an answer to your health woes, you’ve likely run into a fair share of “surefire” home remedies. For the countless women who experience vaginal discharge, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common diagnosis — it’s responsible for half the cases of vaginal discharge in young women. Search the internet for how to treat it and you’ll find a curious home remedy making the rounds — hydrogen peroxide. But does it work? And is it safe?
What is BV?
BV is an infection caused by an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina, most commonly affecting women ages 15 to 44. The exact cause of the condition isn’t known, but certain activities like smoking and douching can increase your risk of getting it.
Though BV is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD), starting a sexual relationship with a new partner can also upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina, and having BV can increase the odds of actually contracting an STD.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include a thin, white-grey discharge, a fishy odor, pain, itching, and burning, but many women don’t experience any symptoms at all.
How do you treat it?
BV rarely leads to any other issues and can go away on its own, but if it persists, your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics like metronidazole (Flagyl, MetroGel), clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse), and tindazole (Tindamaz) to kill the problem bacteria. These can be prescribed for oral or vaginal use. The trouble with antibiotics is that they don’t treat the cause of the bacterial imbalance. Therefore, recurrence is very common—symptoms return in about one out of three women—leading to concerns about antibiotic overuse.
Does hydrogen peroxide work?
One of the popular home remedies for recurring BV is hydrogen peroxide. One study suggests that douching with 30 milliliters (ml) of hydrogen peroxide every day for a week eliminated BV symptoms in 89 percent of participants. But what do the experts think?
“It was a very small cohort of women in this study, but it’s worth considering for women who have recurrent BV issues,” says One Medical’s Beth Pferdihirt, FNP-C. “The caveat: 30 ml every evening for a whole week is a lot of hydrogen peroxide. It’s probably much easier to just use MetroGel or other vaginal prescriptions first, and discuss this possible treatment with your provider for recurrent issues.”
Is there a downside to trying the hydrogen peroxide cure?
“Hydrogen peroxide can be really irritating for the skin in general,” Pferdihirt adds. “I would be reticent to have patients use it in the vulvar area unless I had solid data to back it up.”
So is there anything other than antibiotics that does work?
“I typically recommend boric acid vaginally twice a day for one to two weeks,” says April Blake, a naturopath. “This usually treats BV and yeast and works very well.”
Pferdihert agrees that data supports the use of boric acid suppositories. Now the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is also recommending 600 milligrams (mg) of vaginally-administered boric acid in a gelatin capsule for two weeks for recurrent cases. According to Malcolm Thaler, MD, a seven-day course of antibiotics plus 21 days of vaginal boric acid is the combo that’s really been shown to reduce the number of recurrences.
You can also restore balance after BV by replacing the good bacteria that’s been wiped out. Though probiotics alone aren’t proven to prevent recurrence, oral and vaginal probiotics in the form of lactobacillus can help to rebuild a healthy vaginal environment.
Before trying hydrogen peroxide, boric acid, probiotics, or any other home remedy for BV, be sure to talk to your health care provider.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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