Vaginal itching is an annoying symptom that’s super uncomfortable. What makes it worse is not knowing what’s causing it and whether it requires immediate medical attention or not.
From a statistical standpoint, vaginal itching is a leading cause to visit the gynecologist. It could be a sign of a vaginal infection, skin condition, or chemical irritation. The cause can be as benign as being sensitive to detergent residue in your underwear.
The itching often becomes worse at night. This is due to the hormonal changes that occur when you are sleeping. You will undoubtedly get tempted to scratch; however, this will only make it worse.
Additionally, you may experience vaginal discharge. Common symptoms that coincide with vaginal itching include abnormal bleeding or spotting, redness, and a foul smell.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything there is to know about the causes of vaginal itching, then discuss a few home remedies to help you relieve your symptoms.
Common Causes of Vaginal Itching
There are a variety of causes that trigger vaginal itching. Some are easily treated with some lifestyle changes whereas others require professional help.
Here is a list of some of the most common causes of vaginal itching:
1. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the main causes of vaginal itching. It is the result of bacterial overgrowth in the vagina triggered by pH imbalance.
Interestingly, BV is more prevalent in African American women. The exact reason for this predisposition is still unclear. Moreover, the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology stated that a genetic link could be a contributing factor to BV.
Despite that, bacterial vaginosis does not usually present with itching as a primary symptom. Instead, loose discharge and a foul smell are initially identified. However, the general irritation of the vagina will eventually precipitate itching.
If your infection is simple, a short course of over-the-counter medication that restores the vagina’s low pH is enough to relieve your symptoms. Some women use boric acid suppositories for BV. Others use vaginal probiotics to stay clear of BV and keep their pH balanced. For more serious conditions, visiting a doctor becomes necessary. They will prescribe antibiotics.
2. Eczema or Psoriasis
Dermatological conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, are known to cause itching all over the body. While the vagina is usually spared from the symptoms of these conditions, it can still be affected.
With eczema, expect it around the groin area and on the labia. Psoriasis, on the other hand, affects the skin around the vagina.
It’s true that people with these disorders are usually accustomed to the appearance and treatment of their symptoms. However, if this is the first time you see signs around your vagina, it may be a good idea to see your gynecologist or dermatologist.
3. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema triggered by different chemicals and objects. Whether you use soaps, bubble baths, detergents, or even new underwear, your vagina may be sensitive to one of the components of these products, triggering an inflammatory reaction.
What’s unique about contact dermatitis is that you won’t experience vaginal discharge. Therefore, if you are only dealing with itching and irritation, recall whether you started using a new product. It can be a lubricant, pad, toilet paper, or tampon; they all can irritate the skin. If it’s your case, stick to hypoallergenic products.
To address your symptoms, stop using the culprit product immediately and use OTC corticosteroid creams or Epsom salt baths. A few days should be enough for the symptoms to resolve. If your symptoms persist beyond one week, it may be best to consult your doctor.
4. Yeast Infections
Just like BV, the vagina can also be infected with yeast. The classic fungus that causes this infection is Candida albicans. Initially, you would feel an itching sensation down there followed by cottage cheese-like discharge. Redness around the vulva is also common.
This is one of the most common causes of vaginal itching. If you suspect a yeast infection, it is better to conduct a therapeutic test. Start taking an OCT treatment, such as Monistat, and see how things go.
If your symptoms improve within a few days, it could mean that you had a yeast infection. Otherwise, consult with your primary care provider for further investigation.
5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
STDs present with a variety of symptoms, including itching. Although this is often not the presenting symptom, it is still a common complaint of patients with STDs.
Other symptoms of STDs include sores in the genital area, foul-smelling discharges, dysuria, dyspareunia (i.e., pain during sex), and a burning sensation. If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
The following list will cover the common microbes associated with STDs:
- Genitalwarts – Genital warts present with tiny, flat, flesh-colored bumps on the skin. This will expose you to the HPV virus. This infection can also alter your vaginal pH, causing your vagina to itch and become dry.
- Herpes – Genital herpes precipitates a cluster of red blisters on the vulva. During a flare-up, your symptoms may be severe. Once it’s over, you will feel better soon after.
- Chlamydia – Chlamydial infections are usually asymptomatic. However, they can also present with dysuria, vaginal discharge, and irritation.
- Gonorrhea – This infection affects the throat, genitals, and rectum. Common symptoms are itching, pain, dysuria, and vaginal discharge.
- Trichomoniasis – The microbe responsible for this infection is known as Trichomonas vaginalis. Luckily, 70% of patients with this condition are asymptomatic. The other 30% may present with itching, redness, a burning sensation, and sores.
6. Pubic Lice
Pubic lice, or crabs, are as bad as they sound – bugs crawling down there. Unlike the other conditions on this list, the itchiness caused by pubic lice is generally severe.
We didn’t put this condition in the STD section because you could get it without sex. The lice can get transmitted from skin to skin.
To treat pubic lice, you need an OCT medication like permethrin cream. To prevent pubic lice, follow these tips:
- Use protection when having sex
- Review hygiene ratings of hotels before booking a room
- Keep your pants to yourself?
7. Lichen Sclerosis
Similar to eczema and psoriasis, lichen sclerosis can cause vaginal itching. It presents with a patchy white rash that could appear anywhere in the body, including the vagina. Treating this condition with OCT corticosteroids may not cut it. You will need a more potent steroid from a prescription.
Unfortunately, the appearance of this condition is often confused with vulvar cancer. This will make your doctor run more tests to exclude the diagnosis of cancer, which can be overwhelming.
8. Hormonal Fluctuations
Female hormones control the menstrual cycle and vaginal secretions. Having a dry vagina is a contributing factor to itching. This is more common in women during the premenopausal period, where estrogen levels start to drop abruptly.
Using Replens or other OTC moisturizers can relieve your symptoms here. You can also ask your doctor for a prescription estrogen cream to solve this issue. If the dryness is negatively impacting your sex life, a lubricant should do the trick.
Another cause of hormonal fluctuations that may be responsible for vaginal itching is pregnancy. By modifying the pH of the vagina, Candida species find the ideal environment to overgrow and cause a yeast infection. For this reason, the incidence of microbial infections skyrockets during pregnancy.
9. Urinary Tract Infections
A urinary tract infection can be the result of bacterial, viral, or fungal overgrowth. It can affect any portion of the urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder.
Signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections include pain, an urgency to pee, dysuria (i.e., pain when urinating), and cloudy-looking urine. Itchiness is a common symptom of this condition. If the infected area is near the urethra, the chances of vaginal itching are even higher.
To manage this condition, your doctor will order a urinalysis and a culture to identify the specific microbial species responsible for your infection. However, before the test results are back, your physician will prescribe large-spectrum antibiotics to relieve your symptoms.
The treatment may be adjusted after the test results are back.
10. Beauty Treatments
Trying treatments that enhance the appearance of your vulva can be risky. Today, women want less hair around the vaginal area, which led them to try a variety of conventional and unconventional beauty treatments.
The two treatments that may trigger vaginal itching are vaginal streaming and charcoal vulva masks. For those unfamiliar, the latter is basically a mask for the vagina.
11. Tanning Bed Burns
Tanning increases the risk of skin cancer and provokes burns everywhere in the body, including the vagina. When your skin becomes red and starts peeling, you may start to feel itchiness. Most women who go to tanning beds report these issues.
Optimally, you would avoid going to tanning beds altogether. If you are reading this article after already being a victim of artificial tanning, use a mix of aloe vera and coconut oil to soothe your skin. An alternative ingredient for coconut oil is tea tree oil.
12. Waxing or Shaving Irritation
Shaving or waxing the bikini area can trigger a local inflammatory reaction. Shaving or waxing attacks the integrity of your skin; therefore, it is only normal for itching, redness, and burning to set it. This is more common in women with highly sensitive skin.
Use a hypoallergenic cream or lotion to form a protective layer on your skin. Moreover, ensure that your bikini area is clean and dry. If irritation after waxing has become chronic, try shaving less frequently or stop it altogether. Alternatively, you should change the products you are currently using.
13. Vulvar Cancer
This is the most serious cause of vaginal itching. Vulvar cancer generally occurs in older women. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is often delayed due to the absence of early symptoms. Your doctor will suspect vulvar cancer if he/she sees skin lesions with irregular borders.
Unlike other causes of itching, vulvar cancer usually causes localized pruritus. After a short period of time, the itching may become painful, which is the result of cancer growth into the deeper tissues, applying pressure on the nerves. While vulva cancer can cause itching, other signs related to skin are also common.
If you have a family member with vaginal cancer and you suspect this condition, speak with your gynecologist to conduct a comprehensive control.
14. Lichen Planus
Lichen planus may affect the vaginal area, leading to itching, painful sores, and blisters. Using a topical corticosteroid is enough to manage this condition.
However, you may still need to consult a dermatologist for tailored medical advice.
At-home remedies for vaginal itching
Before we start throwing home remedies at you, we recommend that you don’t try any of these before visiting your gynecologist. Seek medical attention to receive tailored advice.
With that out of the way, there are some natural ways to reduce vaginal itching, including:
Treating a yeast infection with yogurt and honey. Make sure to apply an antifungal cream beforehand. An example of OTC creams is Monistat. If your itching is the result of contact dermatitis, use an OTC corticosteroid cream to relieve your symptoms. Only severe symptoms will require prescription-strength drugs and oral intake.
In case you don’t want to try any store treatments, you may benefit from using cold compresses and ice packs. Place a towel on the vulva, then put the cold compress. This will slow down the inflammatory reaction and improve your symptoms. Alternatively, try oatmeal baths and baking soda soaks for 15 minutes a few times per day.
Can you prevent vaginal itching?
Preventing vaginal itching is possible. Albeit, it may not always be the case. What’s most important is to stick to a good hygiene plan to prevent messing up your vaginal pH. Steer away from harsh cleansers and opt for a fragrance-free wash. As a general rule of thumb, if there is a product that you wouldn’t put on your face, don’t put it near your vagina. Once you get out of the shower, ensure that the vulva is properly dry.
As for the shopping part, avoid purchasing harsh, scented toilet paper. Also, avoid powders and sprays that change the odor of the vagina. It is natural for the vulva to have a unique smell. Buy organic cotton tampons and pads if your symptoms usually arise around your menstrual cycle. This may indicate that your hygiene products are triggering an allergic reaction.
Finally, only purchase panties that consist of 100% cotton. Don’t forget to change your clothes after working out.