The dreaded vaginal itch happens to all women at some point. It may affect the inside of the vagina or the vaginal opening. It may also affect the vulvar area, which includes the labia.
Vaginal itch may be a slight nuisance that goes away on its own, or it may turn into an exasperating problem that rivals a severe case of hives. Either way, it can be hard to know when vaginal itch warrants a visit to an OBGYN.
When you should be concerned about vaginal itch
The vagina is a soft tissue canal that runs from your vulva to your cervix. It’s self-cleaning and does a pretty good job of taking care of itself. Still, certain factors such as hormone changes, poor hygiene, pregnancy, and even stress may impact the health of your vagina and lead to vaginal itch and other symptoms.
In some cases, vaginal itch may indicate a serious problem. You should see an OBGYN if vaginal itch is accompanied by any of these symptoms:
A thick, white discharge
You may have a vaginal yeast infection if you have vaginal itch and a discharge that resembles cottage cheese. Your vagina may also burn and be red and swollen. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida fungus. They’re treated with oral or vaginal antifungal medications. If you’ve never had a yeast infection before, see an OBGYN for a proper diagnosis. You should also see an OBGYN if your symptoms don’t go away after using an over-the-counter yeast infection medication or treatment.
A gray, fishy-smelling discharge
Vaginal itch and a gray, fishy-smelling discharge are signs of bacterial vaginosis (BV). Itching may be intense on the outside of your vagina and your vulvar area. Other signs of BV may include vaginal burning and vaginal pain.
BV is treated with antibiotics. Untreated BV may increase your risk of getting HIV or a sexually transmitted disease. It may also cause complications if you’re pregnant. See an OBGYN to confirm a BV diagnosis and get treatment.
Unexplained vaginal bleeding
It’s not unusual for vaginal itching to occur during your period. Unexplained vaginal bleeding and vaginal itch may or may not be related. Causes of abnormal vaginal bleeding include:
- vaginal infection
- vaginal trauma
- gynecological cancer
- thyroid problems
- oral contraceptives or IUDs
- vaginal dryness
- uterine conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids
Any unexplained vaginal bleeding should be evaluated by an OBGYN.
If you have vaginal itch along with urinary symptoms such as burning with urination, urinary frequency, and urinary urgency, you may have both a urinary tract infection (UTI) and a vaginal infection. Vaginal itch isn’t a common UTI symptom, but it’s possible to have two infections at once. For example, you may have a UTI and a yeast infection or a UTI and BV.
You’ll need to see an OBGYN to determine what’s going on and make sure you get the right treatment. Left untreated, a UTI may cause a kidney infection, kidney damage, and sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.
White patches of skin on your vulva
Intense vaginal itching and white patches of skin on your vulva are symptoms of lichen sclerosus. Pain, bleeding, and blisters are other symptoms. Lichen sclerosus is a serious skin condition that may be caused by an overactive immune system. Over time, it may cause scarring and painful sex. Treatment options include corticosteroid cream and retinoids. An OBGYN can help diagnose the condition, but they may refer you to a dermatologist for treatment.
Other reasons to see an OBGYN for vaginal itch
As you age, your body makes less estrogen. Low estrogen may also occur after a hysterectomy or cancer treatment. Low estrogen may cause vaginal atrophy. This condition causes the walls of the vagina to become thin, dry, and inflamed. It’s also called vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) and genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM).
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy may include:
- vaginal itch
- vaginal burning
- vaginal discharge
- burning with urination
- urinary urgency
- frequent UTIs
- painful sex
Since vaginal atrophy symptoms can mimic a UTI or vaginal infection, you’ll need to see an OBGYN for an accurate diagnosis. Vaginal atrophy is treated with vaginal lubricants, vaginal moisturizers, and oral or topical estrogen.
Another common cause of vaginal itch is contact dermatitis. Some common culprits include:
- feminine deodorant sprays
- bubble baths
- scented toilet paper
- body washes
In many cases, once you stop using problematic products, vaginal itch will go away. If it doesn’t, and you can’t identify an irritant, you should see an OBGYN.
The bottom line
An itchy vagina is often nothing to worry about. There’s no reason to call an OBGYN unless vaginal itch is severe or doesn’t go away in a few days. You should also call an OBGYN if you have vaginal itch and:
- an unusual vaginal discharge
- a foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- vaginal bleeding
- vaginal or pelvic pain
- urinary symptoms
You can support a healthy vagina by:
- washing your vagina every day with water or plain, mild soap
- wearing breathable cotton panties or panties with a cotton crotch
- wearing loose-fitting clothes
- drinking plenty of water
- not wearing wet bathing suits or sweaty exercise clothes for an extended time
If you have any questions or concerns about vaginal itch, even if it’s your only symptom, consult an OBGYN. They will help you determine why you’re itching and which treatments are right for you.