What Causes Vaginal Itching?
Common causes of vaginal irritation and home remedies that OB/GYN doctors recommend
Vaginal itching affects nearly every woman at some point, and while for some it's simply an uncomfortable nuisance, for others it signals a more serious underlying health issue. In most cases, however, alleviating vaginal itching is as simple as identifying and treating the cause.
Skin conditions like psoriasis can also affect the vagina and vulva, but since this fact isn't well-known, women may be aware of their skin condition but never make the connection to their vaginal itching.
Vaginal itching, burning and discharge can be caused by many different aggravating factors such as irritating substances, infections, skin disorders, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or even menopause. If your OB/GYN doctor find that your vaginal itching is a result of one of the following common causes, there is most likely an easy treatment or fix.
Vaginal Itching Due To Chemical Irritants
Like itching in other areas, vaginal itching is often the result of exposure to an irritant. In this case, any soap or chemical product you use on your vagina or vulva — or on clothing that touches the area — can cause irritation.
Sometimes the culprit is something obvious, like a new lubricant or spermicide. Other times the itching is actually the result of the detergent or fabric softener used on clothing. Even a douche, which is actually used to cleanse the vagina, can cause irritation for some women. This is one of the many reasons why you should avoid douching.
If your vaginal itching is a fairly new development, look at any products you've started using recently. Have you switched to a new brand of contraceptive foam or spermicidal condom? Are you using a different brand of detergent or fabric softener in your laundry? If so, the newly introduced chemical may be the culprit.
When your vaginal itching is persistent over a long period of time, irritants may still be to blame. If itching is your only symptom, try changing the products you use for contraception, cleansing and laundry.
For lubricant, consider trying a fragrance-free, water-based lubricant or coconut oil (if you aren't using condoms). Use polyisoprene (latex-free) condoms to see if you have a latex allergy.
Sometimes the chemicals found in soap can cause vaginal irritation as well. Buy fragrance-free soap without perfume and only use it on the outside of the vulva. The interior of your vagina is self-cleaning and using soap or douching may disrupt its natural, healthy bacteria balance.
Also avoid vaginal wipes or deodorants.
Be sure to only change one product at a time so that you can correctly identify the cause of the issue.
Itching Caused by Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness can result in many cases of itching, both external and internal. Hormonal shifts during menopause, as well as douching and certain medications, can dry up vaginal mucus. That dryness can result in itching and other uncomfortable symptoms.
In cases where vaginal dryness results from menopause or other hormone-related issues, estrogen — in the form of a cream, tablet or inserted ring — is the most common treatment. Most women find these approaches very effective in alleviating dryness and itching. If you believe you are experiencing vaginal itching caused by hormones, see our article on vaginal atrophy.
For those whose dryness and itching comes from an external source or lifestyle factors, your doctor may recommend you stop douching or, if possible, change medications. Dabbing a little bit of vaseline petroleum jelly, coconut oil or even Crisco vegetable shortening on the dry skin area can also help heal itching.
Vaginal Itching as a Symptom of an Underlying Issue
When vaginal itching isn't the result of an irritant or dryness, there may be another underlying cause that needs to be identified and treated.
Yeast Infections: Yeast infections are commonplace for many women, as evidenced by easy access to over-the-counter medication. Itching is a primary symptom of yeast infections, which can usually be treated quite effectively by your OB/GYN doctor once properly diagnosed.
Sexually Transmitted Illnesses: Nearly all sexually transmitted illnesses can cause vaginal itching. This includes chlamydia, gonorrhea and genital herpes, as well as cases of human papillomavirus (HPV) that present with other symptoms like vaginal warts (symptoms are not always present with HPV).
If your vaginal itching is a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection, most often treating the illness can help with the itching. The approach, however, depends on the illness itself. Chlamydia, for example, can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Herpes on the other hand is a chronic illness, so treatment usually focuses on alleviating symptoms.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis is a fairly common condition in which the natural bacteria in the vagina can begin to over-produce, resulting in itching and vaginal discharge.
Many women become concerned by the somewhat troubling symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. In most cases though, antibiotics and other medications will return the vagina's bacteria balance to normal. Bacterial vaginosis may also subside naturally.
To prevent bacterial vaginosis, consider taking a Pro-B Probiotic supplement, which has been clinically shown to help balance yeast and bacteria in the body.
Other Causes of Vaginal Itching
Some less common causes of vaginal itching include pre-cancerous cells and a parasitic infection called "pinworms." Skin conditions like psoriasis can also affect the vagina and vulva, but since this fact isn't well-known, women may be aware of their skin condition but never make the connection to their vaginal itching.
When to Contact Your OB/GYN Doctor
If your vaginal itching is persistent and you can't connect it to any of the potential irritants listed here, you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to make sure you aren't dealing with something more serious.
Most importantly, you should never self-diagnose.
Many women assume their vaginal irritation is the result of a yeast infection and buy over-the-counter medications without getting a proper diagnosis. While there's no evidence that this approach will cause you any harm, it also won't help alleviate your itching, and may delay diagnosis of a more serious health issue.
Your best bet when experiencing vaginal itching, especially when it is accompanied by other symptoms like discharge or warts, is to contact your OB/GYN or well woman care physician.
If you're in Gainesville, Lake City or surrounding areas of northern Florida, we invite you to contact our highly experienced, compassionate team of well woman care physicians & nurses at All About Women to schedule an appointment today.
- Identifying and Treatment of Vaginal Atrophy
- Yeast Infections—No Piece of Cake: Preventative Tips from OB/GYNs
- Vaginal Discharge: Causes and Abnormalities
- Vaginal Atrophy: The Hidden Struggle of Menopause
- Treating Vaginal Dryness