What causes vaginal itching? 11 possible conditions
Vaginal itching is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptom that is often caused by irritating substances, treatable and preventable infections, or menopause. In rare cases, itching may occur due to stress or can be a sign of vulvar cancer. Your gynecologist can determine the cause of your itching through an examination and testing. He or she will then be able to recommend appropriate treatments for this uncomfortable symptom.
Through good hygiene and a healthy diet, you can avoid most causes of vaginal itching.
Itching in the vagina and the surrounding area, which is called the vulva, may be caused by a minor issue, but it may also indicate a more serious problem that needs to be treated. Most commonly, itching is caused by some type of irritant or by an infection. In rare cases, it may be the result of cancer.
Various chemicals to which you are exposed can cause vaginal itching. They may also cause an allergic reaction that creates itching or a rash over many parts of your body, including the vagina. Common chemical irritants include soaps, bubble baths, feminine sprays, douches, topical contraceptives, ointments, detergents, and fabric softeners.
If you have urinary incontinence (inability to control your bladder) or are diabetic, your urine may also cause vaginal irritation and itching.
Some skin diseases, like eczema, can cause dry, itchy, and/or blistered skin. At times, outbreaks of these symptoms can occur on the vagina as well.
Yeast is normally present in the vagina, but when its growth goes unchecked, an uncomfortable infection can result. This infection type often occurs after taking a course of antibiotics because doing so destroys useful bacteria as well as the unhealthy bacteria. These useful bacteria are needed to keep yeast growth in check. Yeast infections are fairly common and are characterized by a lumpy, white discharge along with a burning and itching sensation.
Another common cause of itching is an infection called vaginitis, also called vulvovaginitis. When the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted, this infection can result. Vaginitis symptoms include itching, irritation, an inflamed and red vulvar area, discharge, and odor.
Another less common infection that can cause vaginal itching is trichomoniasis. This infection is caused by a parasite, and is typically spread through sexual intercourse. Additional symptoms of this infection include a green or yellow vaginal discharge and pain when urinating.
Women who are going through menopause or who have already done so are more at risk for vaginal itching. This is because of the reduction of estrogen levels, which leads to vaginal dryness. This dryness can cause itching and irritation if left untreated.
Physical and emotional stress can cause itching and irritation, although this cause is not very common. However, stress may weaken your immune system, leaving you more prone to the infections that cause itching.
Less Common Causes
In rare cases, vaginal itching may be a symptom of precancerous skin of the vulva. This is another reason why yearly gynecologist checkups are essential.
Pinworm infections can also cause vaginal itching, although this infection is mostly seen in children. The eggs of the pinworm can be spread through contact, but also by sharing bedding or clothing. Children may also unintentionally consume the eggs, which results in infection. Other symptoms of pinworm infection include extreme itching around the anus and an inability to sleep due to the itching. In extreme cases, the individual may lose his or her appetite or may lose weight. If you suspect that you or your child has this infection, see your doctor immediately. There are medications that can kill the pinworms.
It is important to see your doctor for vaginal itching when you cannot identify the cause or if the itching is severe enough to disrupt your daily life or sleep. Although most causes are not serious, there are a number of treatments that can decrease the discomfort of vaginal itching.
If your itching is accompanied by frequent urination, sudden weight loss, increased thirst, or fatigue, see your doctor as soon as possible. These are all signs of diabetes. Other symptoms that necessitate a doctor’s visit include:
- ulcers or blisters on the vulva
- urination difficulties
- unusual vaginal discharge
- symptoms that persist for more than one week
When you see your doctor for vaginal itching, you will be asked about your symptoms, how severe they are, how long they have lasted, and about your sexual activities. You will also likely undergo a physical and a pelvic examination. In a pelvic examination, your doctor will press down on your abdomen while also inserting a gloved finger into your vagina, so he or she can check the reproductive organs for any abnormalities.
Your doctor may need to do further tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. For example, he or she may want to do a pap smear test, which involves taking a sample of cells from your cervix for examination. This procedure includes the insertion of a lubricated metal or plastic speculum into your vagina, which opens up the area so your gynecologist can then collect the cervical cells.
Your doctor may also collect a sample of your discharge for analysis or take skin biopsies from your vulva. Blood or urine tests may also be performed.
When you know the underlying cause of the itching, your doctor will recommend treatment options, such as antibiotics or antifungal ointments. To soothe the symptoms, he or she may prescribe steroid creams, hormone creams, or even antihistamines.
To prevent vaginal irritation and infection, there are several steps you can take at home.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene products, as these can cause irritation.
- Avoid scented soaps, lotions, and bubble baths.
- When exercising or swimming, change out of wet or damp clothing immediately afterward.
- Wear cotton underwear, which is breathable and will keep you dry.
- Eat yogurt with live cultures to reduce the chance of getting yeast infections.
- If you are diabetic, take steps to control your blood sugar.
- Kaneshiro, N. K. (2010, July 26). Pinworms. National Library of Medicine – National Health Institutes. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001152.htm
- Sacks, D. N. (2009, October 18). Vaginal itching – overview. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/003159.htm
- Trichomoniasis. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Infection. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/trichomoniasis.html
- Urinary incontinence. (2011, June 25). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/urinary-incontinence/DS00404/
- Vorvick, L. J., & Storck, S. (2011, November 7). Vaginal itching. National Library of Medicine – National Health Institutes. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003159.htm
- Vorvick, L. J., & Storck, S. (2010, June 5). Vulvovaginitis – symptom. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/000897sym.htm
- Women’s health, in-depth, vagina: what’s normal, what’s not. (2012, February 25). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vagina/MY01913
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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