We asked experts about the long-term use of boric acid, side effects and when to visit your OB-GYN.
Yeast infections come with a bunch of uncomfortable symptoms, including burning, itching and redness. Infections might be recurrent, which may need a form of treatment depending on the type and frequency.
Enter boric acid suppositories, which have gained a lot of attention recently on TikTok as a way to treat the condition. Boric acid has a variety of uses, including being a component in insect repellent, eye drops and baby powder. The chemical is even used in industrial processing, whether that’s manufacturing glass, leather, cement or other materials.
However, boric acid can also be administered in suppositories in pharmaceutical products to fight infections. With antifungal and antiviral properties, boric acid has been used for decades to treat bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, and recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, or yeast infections, which affect an estimated 1.4 million people annually.
A suppository is used to deliver medicine into your system, whether that’s rectally or vaginally. The medicine melts inside the body, which allows it to be absorbed quicker than taking something orally. But although suppositories can be a recommended way to treat infections, there are some factors to consider first. We asked OB-GYNs and toxicologists about long-term use, when you shouldn’t use boric acid and when to see a doctor. Here are a few points to know:
1. Make sure you don’t swallow the suppository.
The instructions on the box of a suppository will say “Do not swallow,” depending on the brand. A suppository used for vaginal health is supposed to enter the body vaginally and is not meant to be taken by mouth.
This may seem like common sense, particularly if there’s a warning label, but swallowing boric acid suppositories is more common than you think. Recently, TikToker Ari Kytsya shared her experience with taking boric acid orally for four days before realizing it wasn’t meant to be swallowed.
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who did this,” one user commented.
Replying to @kait PSA dont eat it 😭
Swallowing boric acid can damage the esophagus and stomach, which may continue for several weeks after it is consumed. Holes in the esophagus and stomach can cause infections.
It can also cause other issues. The main symptoms of boric acid poisoning include blue-green vomit, diarrhea and rashes. Other symptoms may include blisters, fainting, coma, seizures, drowsiness, fever, headache, low blood pressure, restlessness, twitching, weakness and decreased urination. If you do swallow a boric acid suppository and have side effects, call a poison control center immediately.
Not only does swallowing a suppository potentially cause harm, but it also won’t be effective in treating any infections, Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center, told HuffPost.
“These suppositories are available in capsule formulation, which means that people may swallow them accidentally, thinking that they are meant for oral use or after mistaking them for another oral medication,” Johnson-Arbor said. “When used in suppository form as directed, boric acid is not significantly absorbed through the bloodstream and into the body. Instead, the boric acid works directly in the vagina.”
2. It won’t treat all recurrent infections.
Although boric acid can help treat bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, it’s typically used alongside other medications, Dr. Susan S. Khalil at Mount Sinai in New York City, told HuffPost.
“Boric acid cannot treat all recurrent infections, such as bacterial vaginitis, or sometimes cannot treat an infection alone as the only remedy. Sometimes you have to take an antifungal or an antibiotic for it,” said Khalil, who leads Mt. Sinai’s division of sexual health in the Raquel and Jaime Gilinski Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginitis include abnormal discharge, irritation, painful or difficulty urinating and genital pain. Other forms of antifungals and antibiotics for recurrent vaginal infections include metronidazole, a common antibiotic for bacterial vaginosis, bacterial vaginitis and yeast infections.
Additionally, you shouldn’t be turning to boric acid again for recurrent infections.
“It’s important for people to know that many of the studies on the use of boric acid for vaginal yeast infections involved short durations of treatment, one to two weeks,” Johnson-Arbor said. “If yeast infection symptoms are not adequately controlled after a single course of boric acid suppositories, people should seek medical attention and not attempt to treat themselves with repeated courses of the product.”
3. Don’t take the suppositories if you’re pregnant.
The safety and effects of boric acid suppositories in pregnant women have not been extensively studied. As a result, pregnant people should avoid using boric acid.
“Boric acid vaginal suppositories are not approved by the [Food and Drug Administration], and there is no standardized dosing recommendation for these products because of this,” Johnson-Arbor said. “It is possible that boric acid may have harmful effects on fetal development, but there is currently limited knowledge available on the safety and efficacy of boric acid suppository use during pregnancy.”
A 2021 John Hopkins study on the safety of boric acid use in pregnant and non-pregnant people found reported defects in the neural tube that forms the brain and spine. Additionally, there were fetal skeletal abnormalities, decreased weight, and heart, lung and organ issues in pregnant animals.
“Until human and animal studies are done to evaluate the safety of boric acid suppository use during pregnancy, pregnant people should not use boric acid suppositories,” Johnson-Arbor said.
4. Be aware of the expiration date.
Generally, you shouldn’t be using any forms of medicine past its expiration date.
“The antifungal activity of the boric acid might be less effective after the expiration date or the product may have an increased risk of microbial contamination after the expiration date, in which case the user might develop a new or recurrent vaginal infection,” Johnson-Arbor said.
Not only are expired medications less effective or won’t work, but they might also be risky to use due to a change in chemical composition. There also might be bacterial growth that can lead to more illnesses and increase antibiotic resistance.
Instead, throw out or properly dispose of any expired suppositories and use a new one for effectiveness.
5. See your doctor if infections continue or get worse.
If boric acid suppositories are doing more harm than good, it might be time to look for different treatment options, including other medications.
“It is time to see an OB-GYN with recurrent infections, pelvic pain and increasing discharge,” Khalil said. “Also, you should see a doctor if there is abdominal pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, chills or vulvar swelling, and if the patient has medical co-morbidities that may make certain vulvar or vaginal infections more difficult to treat.”
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