Irritation usually refers to pain, itching, or swelling in the vaginal area. It can affect any part of your vulva, including your labia, clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening.

Temporary irritation usually isn’t cause for concern and can often be treated at home. You’ll likely experience other identifiable symptoms if the irritation results from an underlying condition.

Here’s what to watch for, how to find relief, and when to see a doctor.

Folliculitis occurs when one or more hair follicles are inflamed or infected. It can happen anywhere that hair grows.

In the pubic area, it typically results from shaving, waxing, or other forms of hair removal. Unexplained itchiness is usually called “razor burn.” Unexpected bumps are often ingrown hairs.

Other symptoms include:

  • soreness
  • swelling
  • pus

How to treat it

Razor burn, ingrown hairs, and other forms of folliculitis typically go away without treatment. You should leave the area alone for a couple of weeks to prevent further irritation.

If you’re dealing with extreme pain or itchiness, you may find it helpful to:

  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Apply a cool compress to decrease swelling.
  • Apply a warm compress to soothe pain and tenderness.
  • Apply an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment (Neosporin) to prevent infection.

Contact dermatitis occurs when a substance irritates your skin. It can happen anywhere on the body.

Substances that might cause contact dermatitis on the vulva include:

Your reaction to the offending substance may be immediate or appear gradually over the course of one or two days.

Symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • burning
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • red rash
  • hives
  • blisters

How to treat it

The most important step in treating contact dermatitis is to identify the offending substance. Once you eliminate that substance, your rash should clear up on its own.

This can sometimes be hard, as it’s possible to suddenly have a reaction to something you’ve been exposed to your whole life.

You may also find it helpful to:

  • Wash your skin with mild soap and lukewarm water to help remove any irritants.
  • Take an oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), to help reduce overall symptoms.
  • Apply a topical anti-itch medication, such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream (Cortisone-10).
  • Take a warm (not hot) oatmeal bath to soothe the skin.

A number of different things can cause your hormones to fluctuate.

During your monthly menstrual cycle, your body goes through changes to prepare your body for the possibility of pregnancy.

Each part of this process — from ovulation to menstruation — triggers an increase or decrease in certain hormones.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also cause hormonal changes. So can certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Menopause also causes hormonal changes that result in vulvar sensitivity.

If, for example, your estrogen levels drop, the skin on your vulva may become drier, thinner, and less elastic. This makes it much more vulnerable to irritation.

Scratching, friction from clothing, engaging in sexual activity, and even using toilet paper may cause irritation.

Symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • stinging
  • dryness
  • tiny cracks or cuts
  • tenderness
  • redness

How to treat it

If you haven’t already, consider picking up an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer or lubricant.

Vaginal moisturizers offer a continuous moisturizing effect and help your vaginal tissues retain moisture.

Water-based or silicone-based lubricants can be applied before masturbation, foreplay, and intercourse to reduce friction and discomfort.

If these options don’t provide relief, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider.

They may recommend hormonal birth control, including the pill or IUD, or estrogen-based vaginal therapy, including a cream or ring, to help ease your symptoms.

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida bacteria.

They rarely happen before puberty and after menopause. But as many as 3 out of 4 females will experience one between these time periods.

Symptoms noticed in the vagina or vulva may include:

  • itching
  • swelling
  • burning
  • pain during penetration
  • soreness
  • rash
  • redness
  • thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge

How to treat it

Most yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications. These medications come as creams or suppositories that you use for between one and seven days.

Make sure that you take the entire course of medication. The infection may return if you stop taking the medication too soon.

You should also abstain from sexual activity until you’ve cleared the infection to allow the medication to work properly.

If OTC treatments aren’t working, see a doctor or other healthcare provider. They can confirm whether you’re experiencing a yeast infection and may be able to prescribe stronger medication.

As the name might suggest, BV is a bacterial infection of the vagina.

It occurs when certain bacteria in the vagina grow out of control and disrupt the natural balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria.

It’s the most common vaginal infection affecting females age 15 to 44.

BV usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • white or gray discharge
  • thin or foamy discharge
  • a strong, fishy odor, especially after sex or menstruation
  • pain or burning of the vagina and vulva

How to treat it

If you suspect BV, see a doctor or other healthcare provider. They can prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic.

Make sure that you take the entire course of medication. The infection may return if you stop taking the medication too soon.

You should also abstain from sexual activity until you’ve cleared the infection to allow the medication to work properly.

STIs are common. They’re passed through oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

A number of STIs can cause vulvar irritation, including:

STIs don’t always cause symptoms. When they do, you may experience:

  • pain during or after sex
  • painful urination
  • itching
  • unexplained spotting
  • unusual discharge
  • unusual rash
  • fever or chills
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • blisters, bumps, and sores in the genital or anal area

How to treat it

If you suspect you have an STI or have been exposed to one, see a doctor or other healthcare provider.

Treatment will depend on the type of infection you have. It typically includes an antibiotic or antiviral medication.

Make sure that you take the entire course of medication. The infection may return if you stop taking the medication too soon.

You should also abstain from sexual activity until you’ve cleared the infection to avoid passing it onto your partner.

Psoriasis is a common autoimmune condition that causes a rapid buildup of skin cells.

There are several different types of psoriasis, including genital and inverse psoriasis. Genital psoriasis may develop directly on the vulva. Inverse psoriasis can only form in the skin folds around the groin, thighs, and buttocks.

Both types usually present as smooth red patches. They don’t cause the thick, white scales seen in other types of psoriasis.

How to treat it

If you suspect psoriasis, see a dermatologist or other healthcare provider. They may recommend a prescription-strength steroid cream to relieve itching and discomfort.

Your provider may also recommend light therapy, an in-office procedure that uses special UV lights to heal the skin.

Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that affects the skin, hair, and mucus membranes.

Although it’s more common on other parts of the body, such as inside the mouth and on the wrists, elbows, and ankles, lichen planus can also affect the vagina and vulva.

On the vulva or vagina, symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • a lacy white rash or white streaks
  • painful sores, blisters, or scabs
  • purplish, flat bumps
  • pain with penetration

How to treat it

You may be able to ease your systems by:

  • soaking in an oatmeal bath to help relieve itching
  • applying a cold compress to soothe pain and reduce inflammation
  • applying an OTC hydrocortisone cream to help with itching, irritation, and redness
  • taking an OTC antihistamine to relieve itching and reduce inflammation

Mild cases of lichen planus that affect the skin may clear up within a few years. If vaginal mucus membranes are involved, cases may be more difficult to treat.

If your symptoms are not resolved with simple home remedies, make an appointment to see a doctor or other healthcare provider.

They may prescribe one or more of the following:

  • topical estrogen cream
  • topical, oral, or injection corticosteroids
  • topical or oral immune response drugs
  • topical or oral retinoids
  • ultraviolet (UV) light therapy

Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause. Menopause begins when you go without your period for more than one year.

Perimenopause typically occurs in your mid- to late-forties. During this time, your estrogen levels begin to drop.

When your estrogen levels drop, the lining of your vagina becomes thinner and less flexible. You also produce less vaginal secretions, which can result in an uncomfortable dryness.

As the skin in and around your vagina changes, it may be easily irritated by friction, sexual activity, and the chemicals in products.

How to treat it

If you haven’t already, consider picking up an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer or lubricant.

Vaginal moisturizers offer a continuous moisturizing effect and help your vaginal tissues retain moisture.

Water-based or silicone-based lubricants can be applied before masturbation, foreplay, and intercourse to reduce friction and discomfort.

If these don’t help — or you’re experiencing other uncomfortable symptoms — talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider.

They may recommend low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy, such as a cream or vaginal ring. These products improve the tissues’ thickness and elasticity and increase blood flow.

Hormone replacement therapy may also be an option.

Lichen sclerosus causes small patches of shiny white skin to form. Although these patches can develop anywhere on the body, they’re most common in the genital and anal regions.

You may be more likely to develop lichen sclerosus after you reach menopause.

Other symptoms may include:

  • itching
  • pain or tenderness
  • blotchy, wrinkled patches
  • easy bruising or tearing of the skin
  • lesions that bleed or blister

How to treat it

You may be able to ease your systems by:

  • soaking in an oatmeal bath to help relieve itching
  • soaking in a sitz bath to help relieve pain and itching
  • applying a cold compress to soothe pain and reduce inflammation
  • applying an OTC hydrocortisone cream to help with itching, irritation, and redness
  • applying a vaginal moisturizer to keep your skin moisturized
  • applying lubricant before sex to reduce friction and irritation
  • taking an OTC antihistamine to relieve itching and reduce inflammation

If your symptoms aren’t resolved with simple home remedies, make an appointment to see a doctor or other healthcare provider. They may recommend a prescription-strength steroid cream to relieve itching and discomfort.

If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to manage them at home.

But, if your symptoms worsen or persist for more than two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor or other healthcare provider.

You should also seek medical attention if you:

  • suspect you have or have been exposed to an STI
  • have signs of an infection, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes
  • have recurrent pain during sex

Your provider can help determine whether an underlying condition is causing your symptoms and advise you on any next steps.