Within the vaginal microbiome are an array of bacteria that serve essential functions and help keep the body safe. However, these bacteria may sometimes grow out of control, causing problems including bacterial vaginosis.
Some women may notice that they frequently get BV after their period, which may cause them to wonder if tampons cause BV. Continue reading to learn more about this connection and what you can do to decrease your BV risk.
Table of Contents
- What Is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
- What Are the Symptoms of BV?
- What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
- Can Tampons Cause Bacterial Vaginosis?
- How to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis?
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
The vagina naturally houses hundreds of different types of bacteria which help to protect the vagina from infection and other unpleasant conditions. However, these bacteria sometimes have the opposite effect, which is what occurs with bacterial vaginosis (BV).
With BV, the bacteria found in the vagina grow out of control. This is most common with Gardnerella vaginalis (G. vaginalis), which is the most common bacteria in the vagina and the one most likely to cause BV.
What Are the Symptoms of BV?
Those with BV often do not have any symptoms. In cases when someone does have symptoms, they are usually mild enough to go unnoticed, or they come and go.
When signs appear for BV, they may include:
- unusual consistency of the vaginal fluid
- thin, white, gray, or green vaginal discharge
- vaginal itching
- fishy-smelling vaginal odor
- burning when urinating
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
While BV results from an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria, the cause of this generally has to do with something upsetting the vaginal pH levels. For example, using scented products for the vagina or douching changes the vaginal pH level, which then allows for certain bacteria to grow out of control.
Sexual activity is also a potential cause of BV, as the genital chemistry of a partner may change the balance within the vagina, again allowing certain bacteria to overgrow.
Along these same lines, research has shown that having multiple sexual partners is a risk factor for BV. While scientists are not sure why this is the case, research has shown that BV occurs more often in women with multiple sex partners or a new partner. Women having sex with other women are also at a high risk of developing BV.
Can Tampons Cause Bacterial Vaginosis?
The greatest risk associated with tampon use is toxic shock syndrome, but there’s also a potential for other infections if you wear a tampon for too long.
Bacteria already favor the vagina because it is a dark, warm, and moist environment, which they thrive in. When you add a tampon into the mix, bacteria have a new place to grow, resulting in one of two things: inviting in harmful bacteria or letting good bacteria overgrow.
This second scenario results in BV, showing that tampons can increase the risk of BV, but only if they’re left in for too long.
Is There a Link Between Tampons and BV?
Research has shown that period blood can be very acidic, which, as guessed, can affect the pH level of your vagina. Since bacteria rely heavily on an ideal pH to remain balanced, a higher acidity may allow certain bacteria to grow unchecked.
This is how tampons may increase the risk of BV, especially if they are worn for a long time. A tampon absorbs your period blood, but the blood remains in the vaginal canal, interfering with the environment. If the tampon is not removed in a timely manner, the period blood has longer to affect the pH of the vagina.
How Can You Reduce the Risks?
The best way to reduce the risk of BV from tampon usage is to stick to the time limits on tampons. At most, you should wear a tampon for only 8 hours, although most recommend switching them after 4-6 hours (or even earlier if you have a heavy flow). Changing your tampon regularly ensures that there is not as much time for the microbiome in your vagina to be altered or for bacteria to enjoy the new environment too much.
Furthermore, keeping up with your tampon schedule helps clear out the period blood and prevents it from altering your vagina’s chemistry.
Still, using a tampon will always allow the acidic period blood to remain within the vaginal canal, so changing them regularly may not be enough to lower everyone’s cases of BV. In these instances, a menstrual cup may be a better solution.
Similar to a tampon, a menstrual cup is inserted into the vaginal canal. However, with a menstrual cup, the period blood is contained within it, keeping the acidic blood from interfering with the vagina’s pH through direct contact. While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of menstrual cups for BV, a small study did show that those who used one had a lower risk of BV.
How to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis?
As a bacterial infection, bacterial vaginosis can successfully be treated with a course of antibiotics, taken either orally or applied as a gel/cream directly to the vagina. The most common antibiotics for BV include clindamycin and metronidazole.
Whichever antibiotic you are prescribed, it is crucial to continue taking it for the entire prescribed course. This is because stopping your prescription sooner than prescribed increases the risk of bacteria lingering, which increases the risk of recurrent infection. To ensure that your infection is fully treated, be sure to complete your prescription.
When to See a Doctor?
If left untreated, BV can increase the risk of STIs, which is why it is essential to see a doctor as soon as you suspect BV, or even if something doesn’t seem right “down there.” The biggest identifier is a change in your vaginal discharge, including its consistency, color, or odor. If you ever notice changes, it’s important to see a doctor to help determine what might be causing them.
Additionally, if you received an antibiotic for BV but still notice symptoms even when you finished it, you will want to visit your doctor again. Symptoms that continue even after taking an antibiotic can signify antibiotic resistance, which requires an alternative antibiotic to clear the infection.
If you’re looking for a convenient way to discuss your symptoms and receive an antibiotic prescription, look no further than an online doctor. With DrHouse, you can meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes, no matter where you are, to determine the cause of your symptoms and begin treatment.
Bacterial vaginosis is an infection characterized by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, which results when the vagina is exposed to something that alters its microbiome. One such possibility is tampons, which create a favorable environment for bacteria and allow the acidic period blood to remain in the vaginal canal for longer. While the direct link between tampons and higher BV risk is unknown, these factors pose a possibility of increased infection risk.
To reduce BV risk while on your period, change your tampon every 8 hours (or ideally, every 4-6), or ditch the tampon entirely and opt for a menstrual cup instead. However, if you do get BV, be sure to reach out to your doctor to receive an antibiotic prescription and clear up your infection.
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