What causes vaginal itching? 11 possible conditions
Vaginal itching is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptom that often occurs due to irritating substances, infections, or menopause. It may also occur as a result of certain skin disorders or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In rare cases,... Read more
Vaginal itching is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptom that often occurs due to irritating substances, infections, or menopause. It may also occur as a result of certain skin disorders or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In rare cases, vaginal itching might develop due to stress or vulvar cancer.
Most vaginal itching isn’t a cause for concern. However, you should contact your doctor or gynecologist if the itching is severe or if you suspect you have an underlying condition. Your doctor can determine the cause of your vaginal itching through an examination and testing. They’ll also be able to recommend appropriate treatments for this uncomfortable symptom.
Causes of vaginal itching
Here some of the possible causes for itchiness of the vagina and the surrounding area.
Exposing the vagina to irritating chemicals can cause vaginal itching. These irritants may trigger an allergic reaction that creates an itchy rash over various areas of the body, including the vagina. Common chemical irritants include:
- bubble baths
- feminine sprays
- topical contraceptives
- fabric softeners
- scented toilet paper
Some skin diseases, such as eczema and psoriasis, can cause redness and itching in the genital region. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a rash that primarily occurs in people with asthma or allergies. The rash is reddish and itchy with a scaly texture. It may spread to the vagina in some women with eczema. Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes scaly, itchy, red patches to form along the scalp and joints. At times, outbreaks of these symptoms can occur on the vagina as well.
Yeast is a naturally occurring fungus that’s normally present in the vagina. It usually doesn’t cause problems, but when its growth goes unchecked, an uncomfortable infection can result. This infection is known as a vaginal yeast infection. It’s a very common condition, affecting 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic. The infection often occurs after taking a course of antibiotics, as these types of medications can destroy good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. The good bacteria are needed to keep yeast growth in check. The overgrowth of yeast in the vagina can result in uncomfortable symptoms, including itching, burning, and lumpy discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another common reason for vaginal itching. Like a vaginal yeast infection, BV is triggered by an imbalance between naturally occurring good and bad bacteria in the vagina. The condition doesn’t always cause symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they typically include vaginal itching and an abnormal, foul-smelling discharge. The discharge may be thin and dull gray or white. In some cases, it might also be foamy.
Sexually transmitted diseases
Numerous STDs can be transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse and cause itching in the vagina. These include:
These conditions can also cause additional symptoms, including abnormal growths, green or yellow vaginal discharge, and pain while urinating.
Women who are going through menopause or who have already done so are more at risk for vaginal itching. This is due to the reduction of estrogen levels that occur during menopause, which leads to vaginal atrophy. This is a thinning of the mucosa that can lead to excessive dryness. The dryness can cause itching and irritation if you don’t get treatment for it.
Physical and emotional stress can cause vaginal itching and irritation, though this isn’t very common. It might occur when stress weakens your immune system, leaving you more prone to the infections that cause itching.
In rare cases, vaginal itching may be a symptom of vulvar cancer. This is a type of cancer that develops in the vulva, which is the external part of the female’s genitals. It includes the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris, and the opening of the vagina. Vulvar cancer may not always cause symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include itching, abnormal bleeding, or pain in the vulvar area. Vulvar cancer can be treated successfully if your doctor diagnoses it in the early stages. This is another reason that yearly gynecologist checkups are essential.
When to see your doctor about vaginal itching
It’s important to see your doctor for vaginal itching if the itching is severe enough to disrupt your daily life or sleep. Although most causes aren’t serious, there are some treatments that can decrease the discomfort of vaginal itching.
You should also contact your doctor if your vaginal itching persists for more than one week or if your itching occurs along with the following symptoms:
- ulcers or blisters on the vulva
- pain or tenderness in the genital area
- genital redness or swelling
- trouble urinating
- an unusual vaginal discharge
- discomfort during sexual intercourse
What to expect during your appointment
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, including how severe they are and how long they have lasted. They may ask you about your sexual activities as well. They’ll also likely need to perform a pelvic examination. During a pelvic examination, your doctor will visually inspect the vulva and may use a speculum to see inside the vagina. They may press down on your abdomen while inserting a gloved finger into your vagina. This allows them to check the reproductive organs for any abnormalities.
Your doctor may also collect a sample of skin tissue from your vulva or a sample of your discharge for analysis. Your doctor might perform blood or urine tests as well.
Medical treatment for vaginal itching
Once your doctor finds the underlying cause of your vaginal itching, they’ll recommend treatment options. The specific course of treatment required would depend on the particular condition that’s causing the problem:
- Your doctor can treat vaginal yeast infections with antifungal medications. These come in various forms, including creams, ointments, or pills. They’re available by prescription or over the counter. However, if your doctor has never diagnosed you with a yeast infection, make sure to speak with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication.
- Doctors often treat BV with antibiotics. These may come as pills you take orally or as creams you insert into your vagina. Regardless of the type of treatment you use, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and to complete the full round of medication.
- You can treat STDs with antibiotics, antivirals, or antiparasitics. You’ll need to take your medications regularly and avoid sexual intercourse until your infection or disease clears.
- Menopause-related itching may be treated with estrogen cream, tablets, or a vaginal ring insert.
Other types of vaginal itching and irritation often clear on their own. In the meantime, you can apply steroid creams or lotions to reduce inflammation and ease discomfort. However, you should limit how much you use them because they can also lead to chronic irritation and itching if you overuse them.
Home remedies for vaginal itching
You can prevent most causes of vaginal itching through good hygiene and lifestyle habits. There are several steps you can take at home to prevent vaginal irritation and infection:
- Use warm water and a gentle cleanser to wash your genital area.
- Avoid scented soaps, lotions, and bubble baths.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene products, such as sprays and douches.
- Change out of wet or damp clothing right after swimming or exercising.
- Wear cotton underwear and change your underwear every day.
- Eat yogurt with live cultures to reduce the chance of getting yeast infections.
- Use condoms during sexual intercourse.
- Always wipe from front to back after having a bowel movement.
- Barad, D. H. (n.d.). Genital itching. Retrieved from http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women's-health-issues/symptoms-of-gynecologic-disorders/genital-itching
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, February 28). Vagina: What’s normal, what’s not. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vagina/MY01913
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, September 18). Yeast infection (vaginal). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/basics/definition/con-20035129
- Vaginal infections. (2014, April 15). Retrieved from http://www.girlshealth.gov/body/reproductive/infections.html
- Vulva and vaginal irritation. (2016, April 4). Retrieved from https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/vulva-vagina-ovaries-uterus/vulva-vaginal-irritation
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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