When vaginal itch strikes, you may assume that you have a yeast infection. But think twice before you dash to the store for an over-the-counter antifungal remedy. There are many other potential reasons for vaginal itch. If you treat the condition improperly, you may do more harm than good. Read on to learn why your vagina may be itchy, and what you can do about it.
Reasons why your vagina may be itchy
Your vagina is a soft tissue designed to keep itself clean and healthy. A healthy vagina has the right balance of good and bad bacteria. It produces clear or white mucus and shouldn’t smell bad. How much mucus is produced depends on your hormone levels and where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Occasional vaginal itching is common and often resolves on its own. Persistent itching may be a sign of something more serious, such as:
1. Contact dermatitis
If you’ve recently changed soap and your vagina is itching, contact dermatitis may be to blame. Contact dermatitis causes an itchy rash. It may be caused by an allergic reaction to an irritating substance, such as:
- vaginal lubricants and spermicides
- latex condoms
- latex diaphragms
- laundry detergent
- tight clothing
- scented toilet paper
- shampoos and body wash
- fabric softeners
- tampons and sanitary pads
Prolonged friction from activities such as riding a bike, wearing tight clothes or underwear, and horseback riding may also cause contact dermatitis and vaginal itch.
It may be challenging to determine the exact cause of contact dermatitis. However, once the irritating offender is identified and eliminated, most cases go away on their own. To help the healing process along, try soaking in a lukewarm bath with a few tablespoons of baking soda for up to 15 minutes a few times a day. Severe cases of contact dermatitis may require treatment with a steroid prescription cream.
2. Bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection. It may be caused by douching or an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Symptoms may include:
- vaginal itch
- thin white, grey, or green vaginal discharge
- a foul, fishy vaginal odor
- burning during urination
Bacterial vaginosis is treated with oral antibiotics, a vaginal antibiotic gel, or cream. If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis is linked to preterm birth, infection after surgery, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
3. Lichen sclerosus
If vaginal itch is accompanied by white spots on your vulvar area, you may have an uncommon condition called lichen sclerosus. The cause of lichen sclerosus is unclear.
The first line of treatment for genital lichen sclerosus is usually corticosteroids. If that doesn’t work, immune-modulating drugs may be prescribed. Untreated lichen sclerosus may lead to vaginal scarring, blistering, painful sex, and vulvar cancer.
4. Hormone changes
As you age, your estrogen levels decline. Nursing also causes estrogen levels to drop. Low estrogen may cause the lining of your vagina to thin and cause itching and irritation. Symptoms should resolve when you stop breast-feeding and estrogen levels increase again.
5. Pubic lice
These tiny, crab-like creatures cause intense itching in the vaginal and pubic areas. They usually attach to pubic hair. They may also attach to other areas of the body that are covered in coarse hair. Pubic lice can be treated with an over-the-counter lice-killing lotion. Severe cases may require a topical prescription medication.
The bottom line
Don’t assume vaginal itch is a yeast infection. It may be, but treating a yeast infection that doesn’t exist may make it more difficult to diagnose the real reason for vaginal itch. It may also further upset your vagina’s delicate balance of organisms. You can help keep your vagina healthy by:
- not using douches
- washing the area at least once daily with unscented, plain soap or even just water
- not using scented personal care products in your vaginal area
- not using perfumed feminine hygiene sprays and deodorants
- practicing safe sex by using a condom every time you have intercourse
- wiping from front to back after using the bathroom
- getting regular gynecological checkups
Vaginal itch is hard to ignore. But if possible, fight the urge to scratch. Scratching sensitive vaginal tissues may increase irritation and lead to infection.
Unless you’re positive you have a yeast infection, see your doctor or gynecologist for a proper diagnosis if you have persistent vaginal itch. You should also see your doctor if the itching continues after using an over-the-counter yeast infection remedy.