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Bacterial Vaginosis vs Yeast Infection: What is the Difference?

written by Sofie Wise Written by Sofie Wise
Sofie Wise

Sofie Wise

Sofie hopes to create a more sustainable healthcare system by empowering people to make conscious health decisions. Her interests include cooking, reading, being outdoors and painting.

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October 28, 2021 Read Time - 13 minutes

Bacterial Vaginosis vs Yeast Infection

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections share some of the same symptoms, but the causes and treatments for these infections are different. While a yeast infection can be treated with over the counter products or may go away on its own, bacterial vaginosis may need to be treated with prescription medication.

Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are both common vaginal infections that fall under the category of vaginitis. In fact, 3 out of every 4 women will experience a yeast infection during their lifetime, and bacterial vaginosis is the most common infection for women ages 15 to 44.

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What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is caused by the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or microflora in your vagina. This overproduction of anaerobic bacteria upsets the natural balance of microorganisms and causes the uncomfortable symptoms associated with this condition.

Your vagina is a delicate ecosystem that contains a mix of different bacteria, including yeast and Lactobacillus. They work together to keep a natural balance of acidity that is measured by a pH factor. 

Normally, the pH factor in your vagina should be between 3.8 and 4.2. If the pH factor gets thrown off course by certain risk factors and reaches a level of 4.5 or higher, then you may have a vaginal infection such as bacterial vaginosis.

Some of these risk factors may include:

  • Smoking
  • Having more than one sexual partner
  • Douching
  • Hormonal changes
  • Thong underwear or tight pants
  • Past history of STDs
  • Using sex toys
  • Lubricants that contain perfume
  • Taking antibiotics
  • Heavy or prolonged menstruation

What Causes Yeast Infection?

A yeast infection, also known as candida vulvovaginitis, is usually brought on by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans. Candida is a microorganism that is common in your body and can be found in small amounts throughout the areas of your body such as your mouth, intestines, skin, and vagina.

Some causes of yeast infection might include:

  • Douching
  • Birth control pills
  • Being sexually active
  • Tight clothing, such as thongs
  • Stress
  • Pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and HIV
  • Long-term antibiotics
  • Hormonal changes in a woman’s cycle, such as menopause, pregnancy, or menstruation

Symptoms of Yeast Infection vs BV

Although yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are similar, there are some distinct differences in the symptoms of each condition. Some yeast infection symptoms may include:

  • Yeast infection discharge that looks like cottage cheese, i.e., thick, white, and lumpy
  • Itchiness that will not go away
  • Anal itching
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Painful intercourse

On the other hand, if you are having some the following symptoms, you may have bacterial vaginosis:

  • A strong, pungent, fishy odor 
  • Thin white, gray, or greenish vaginal discharge
  • Burning during urination
  • Thick discharge after your menstruation cycle or just after sex
  • Itchiness in and around the vaginal area

According to Mayo Clinic, “many women with bacterial vaginosis have no signs or symptoms.” As a result, it’s essential to talk to your doctor about a vaginal infection, especially if “the color and consistency of your discharge seems different.”

How Long Does Bacterial Vaginosis Last?

Most cases of bacterial vaginosis will go away on its own in a few days to a week. If your symptoms last more than 7 days, it might be time to think about seeing a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment of your BV.

If treated with a 7-day course of antibiotics, a BV infection will generally clear up within 2 to 3 days. It is important to continue taking the full dosage of antibiotics as your doctor prescribed. Other women may consider using a home remedy for a mild infection.

If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can lead to further risk of complications such as an ovarian infection, fallopian tube infection, uterine infection, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

How Long Does a Yeast Infection Last?

The length of a yeast infection will depend on the severity of the infection. A mild yeast infection may go away on its own within 3 or 4 days. A moderate infection with increasingly uncomfortable symptoms may require treatment and last for a longer period of time.

With prescription medication, such as Diflucan, a yeast infection should go away in 7 to 14 days. Home remedies and over-the-counter medications may be effective for a mild case of yeast infection. However, more serious cases should be seen by a doctor.

In any case, every time you think you have a yeast infection or you’re experiencing similar symptoms, you may want to consider seeing a medical professional to ensure you get a proper diagnosis and treatment, especially if you are pregnant.

Can Men Get Bacterial Vaginosis?

Men cannot get bacterial vaginosis. A man’s body does not have an equivalent place that provides a friendly ecosystem for organisms and microflora, such as anaerobic bacteria and Lactobacilli, to grow.

If you think you have BV and you have a male sexual partner, there is no need for your partner to get tested or seek medical treatment. If your partner is a woman, however, she may want to consider getting tested for bacterial vaginosis, especially if your own BV is recurring or chronic.

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Can Men Get A Yeast Infection?

Although yeast infections in men are not common, men can still develop a yeast infection. Yeast infections in men are generally caused by having unprotected sex with someone who has candidal vaginitis. 

There is an increased risk for a man who has not been circumcised. However, with proper hygiene, this risk is reduced. 

Some symptoms of yeast infections in men may include:

  • A dry rash that peels
  • Redness
  • Small white spots on penis 

If left untreated, a yeast infection in a man may go away on its own. However, there can be complications, such as the infection spreading to the buttocks, scrotum, and inner thighs.

Getting a prescription of oral or topical antifungal cream is a simple and quick solution. Generally, the cream should be applied twice a day for 1 to 3 weeks.

Is Bacterial Vaginosis an STD?

Bacterial vaginosis is not an STD, but it may increase your risk of developing STDs such as herpes or gonorrhea. Moreover, if you are HIV-positive or have other autoimmune issues, getting bacterial vaginosis may increase the chances of passing on the HIV virus to your partner.

“There is no research to show that treating a sex partner affects whether or not a woman gets BV,” according to the Centers for Diease Control. However, “having BV can increase your chances of getting other STDs.”

You cannot get bacterial vaginosis from having intercourse if you have a male partner. However, you may be more likely to contract this infection if you have recently had sex with a new partner. Some studies suggest that a change in sexual partners can upset the pH balance of vaginal bacteria.

If you think that you may have an STD and are having symptoms, it’s important to seek safe and easy STD testing from a medical professional that you trust.

How To Get Rid of Bacterial Vaginosis

If you think that you may have BV and want to know how to get rid of bacterial vaginosis, you may want to consider seeing your gynecologist or another medical professional.

Your doctor will do a vaginal examination and take a swab sample of your vaginal discharge to test for pH factor levels. The sample of your vaginal discharge will also rule out any other potential infections, such as a yeast infection or an STD. If you are in an exclusive relationship, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic based on the color of your vaginal discharge and its odor.

Home Remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis

Home remedies for bacterial vaginosis are available to treat this condition. Some home treatments may be more effective for you than others. One benefit to choosing a home remedy is that there may be fewer side effects than prescription treatment.

  • Plain Yogurt – Bacterial vaginosis natural treatment may be effective with the use of plain yogurt. Yogurt contains lots of healthy bacteria and is a natural probiotic. Use yogurt for bacterial vaginosis by applying a thin coat of plain yogurt to your vaginal area on a daily basis. Another option is to apply some plain yogurt to a tampon and insert it into your vagina before bedtime.
  • Tea Tree Oil – Tea tree oil contains strong antibacterial and antifungal properties that are beneficial for many conditions. Try diluting tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as coconut, almond, or olive oil by mixing 5 to 10 drops of tea tree oil with 1 ounce of the carrier oil. Tea tree oil can make some women’s skin sensitive. You may want to test a small amount of your diluted solution to your arm to make sure that your sensitive areas will not be irritated.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – Use 1 ounce of hydrogen peroxide once a day for a week. Hydrogen peroxide has been known to help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms such as itching with bacterial vaginosis.
  • Garlic – Garlic has long been a source of treatment for a number of ailments because of its antibiotic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with garlic by making a paste or simply by eating a clove daily. Another option for home treatment is using garlic oil mixed with vitamin E or taking garlic tablets.
  • Probiotics – Taking a daily dose of probiotics in pill form or in fermented drinks such as kombucha has been shown to have a favorable benefit in the promotion of healthy bacterial gut flora.

Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis

If you have bacterial vaginosis, you doctor will generally prescribe one of the following treatments:

  • Metronidazole – This medication may also be called Metrogel-Vaginal or Flagyl. This is a pill that is taken orally for 5 to 7 days. Metronidazole also comes as a topical gel.
  • Clindamycin – Also known as Clindesse or Cleocin, this medication comes as a cream. The treatment consists of inserting the cream into your vagina for the prescribed amount of time, usually 5 to 7 days. Clindamycin is known to weaken latex condoms for up to 3 days after you use the cream.
  • Tinidazole or Tindamax – This is an oral medication. Like Metronidazole, it has a tendency to cause an upset stomach.

It’s important to take all the medication as prescribed, even if your symptoms go away. Stopping your medication too early may cause a risk of recurrence of infection and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Despite treatment, bacterial vaginosis sometimes comes back within 3 to 12 months. Researchers are investigating new medications for women who have recurring or chronic infections.

How To Get Rid of a Yeast Infection

Getting rid of a yeast infection can be done using home remedies for milder infections or by consulting your physician for a prescription. You might also want to purchase an at-home pH test to determine if your pH factor is over 4.5. This may indicate that you have some type of infection other than a yeast infection.

If your pH level is 4 or lower, it is likely that you have a yeast infection, which you may be able to treat at home. However, if you are pregnant, have been exposed to an STD, or have recurring yeast infections, it is advisable to still see your doctor for a complete examination.

Home Remedies for a Yeast Infection

  • Coconut Oil – Coconut oil has strong antifungal properties and that can be used as a carrier oil in combination with other essential oils, such as oil of oregano or tea tree oil.
  • Oil of Oregano – Generally, oregano oil is made from common oregano, or origanum marjoram, and it does not have curative properties. However, oil of oregano, or origanum vulgare, is made from wild oregano and contains two powerful antifungal properties: carvacrol and thymol. Some research has shown that wild oregano oil can prevent the growth of Candida albicans. Insert a capsule of oil into the vagina at night before bedtime. Another option is to apply the oil to a tampon.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Drinking 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar every day has been shown to fight the growth of candida. You can add it to a cup of tea or a glass of water and sip it throughout the day or once in the morning. Use apple cider vinegar to replace white vinegar in different recipes, such as salad dressing. You can also apply apple cider vinegar externally as a compress or by adding it to your bath water. Soak a cloth with full strength apple cider vinegar and apply it to the affected area. Rinse with plain water after 30 minutes.
  • Plain Yogurt – As with bacterial vaginosis, plain yogurt introduces good bacteria back into your vagina. Make sure that the yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus.

Over-the-Counter Treatment for a Yeast Infection

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for yeast infections are easily available and should quickly relieve the uncomfortable and itchy symptoms.

Vaginal creams are also an OTC option. The medication comes with an applicator to administer a pre-measured dose inside of your vagina. These creams are available in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day applications.

Yeast Infection Prescriptions

A commonly prescribed medication is called Diflucan, also known as fluconazole. It comes in pill form and cures infections in a few days about 90 percent of the time.

You can also get a prescription from an online doctor. It’s easy, a little less embarrassing, and you don’t have to wait long for an appointment. It’s also affordable, as your insurance will cover the cost of the appointment. If you don’t have insurance, you can pay a fee of $129.

Bacterial Vaginosis vs Yeast Infection Prevention

Even though BC and yeast infections are very common in women, there are still ways to protect yourself by reducing your risk factors.

  • Healthy Hygiene – Practicing good hygiene will lower your risk of getting an infection. Do not use a douche, soap, or perfumed cleansers. Change your tampon or pad several times a day.
  • Healthy Eating Habits – There is some evidence that sugar helps promote the growth of yeast. Some experts advise eating a diet low in sugar and eliminating certain foods, such as white flour, foods that contain gluten, alcoholic drinks fermented with yeast, and some types of dairy products. Consider choosing alternative foods that are high in fiber and green vegetables, eggs, beans, lean proteins, fish, nuts, and herbal teas.
  • Keep Yourself Dry – Keeping your vagina and free from moisture will help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Yeast thrives in moist and humid environments. Wear cotton underwear and avoid thongs or tight pants. Try to stick to natural fabrics such as silk or cotton.
  • Birth Control Options – Extra estrogen from your birth control pills may lead to more production of yeast in your body. Consider using birth control pills that do not contain estrogen, such as progesterone-only pills, or an IUD. This will reduce the risk of bacteria like candida from growing into an infection.
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Do You Have A Yeast Infection or BV?

Think you may have a yeast infection or BV? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician here to discuss bacterial vaginosis vs yeast infection treatment options.


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Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Mayo Clinic. What is Bacterial Vaginosis? Accessed October 14, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Vaginosis — CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed October 14, 2021 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm 

Mayo Clinic. Yeast Infection (Vaginal) Accessed October 14, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999

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