You know what is worse, an itch in a vagina? Not knowing what is causing it.
That’s not to say that vaginal itching isn’t something to have concerns about it, because it can occasionally be a sign of serious issues like sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and even (rarely) vulvar cancer. But the reality is that vaginal itching is pretty common and usually caused by less serious things like irritating substances or hormonal changes.
It is worth going over some terminology before you get into it.
A lot of people say vagina when they really mean vulva. Your vagina is actually just one part of your vulva — specifically the inside part. The vulva is the part of your genitals that’s on the outside of your body, like your labia, clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening.
In this article, we are talking about itching that affects the vagina, or both.
There are many possible causes of an itch in the vagina or vulvar.
Chemical irritants, like those found in everyday products that come in contact with the vagina and vulva, can trigger an allergic reaction, known as contact dermatitis. We’re talking alcohol, dyes, fragrances, etc.
If you have an irritant, your vagina and vulvar might be red and itchy.
Products that often contain such irritants include:
- soaps, shower gels, and bubble baths
- The sprays are feminine.
- topical contraceptives, like spermicide and Phexxi
- There are creams, lotions, and ointments.
- Softeners for fabric.
- The toilet paper was scented.
- There are scented pads and liners.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a rash that primarily occurs in people with asthma or allergies. The rash is reddish and itchy with a scaly texture. It may spread to the vulva in some people with eczema.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes scaly, itchy, red patches to form along the scalp and joints. At times, outbreaks of these symptoms can occur on the vulva as well.
Yeast is a naturally occurring fungus that’s normally present in the vagina. It usually doesn’t cause problems, but when its growth goes unchecked, an uncomfortable infection — aka, vaginal yeast infection — can result.
The overgrowth of yeast in the vagina can result in uncomfortable symptoms, including itching, burning, and thick, whitish discharge that may or may not smell, well, yeasty, like a fresh sourdough loaf.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another potential reason for vaginal itching.
The vagina has an unbalanced balance of good and bad bacteria.
The condition can cause symptoms. Vaginal itching and an abnormal discharge are some of the symptoms that appear. The discharge may be dull or gray. It can be foamy.
There are a few STIs that can cause vaginal itching, including:
- “It’s a sexually transmitted disease, called chlamydia.”
- There are genital warts.
- Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease.
- genital herpes
- There is a disease called trichomoniasis.
While not exclusively sexually transmitted, we need to mention pubic lice (also known as crabs). These pesky little insects are typically passed on during intimate contact, but can also be passed through bedding and towels. They cause genital itching that starts five days after infestation and intensifies at night. You might also notice pale bluish dots near the bites and develop a fever.
The drop in estrogen that happens during perimenopause and menopause increases the risk of vaginal itching.
That’s because less estrogen causes the tissues of the vulva and vagina to become thinner, drier, and less elastic. Vaginal dryness can result in itching and irritation. You might also find sex painful and bleed after sex.
Stress can cause vaginal itching and irritation.
It might occur when stress weakens your immune system, leaving you more prone to the infections that cause itching. The increase in the stress hormone cortisol that occurs when you’re under stress has also been shown in animal studies to affect vaginal health and increase the risk for vaginal infections.
“Vaginal itching can be caused by vaginal cancer. It can cause skin changes on the vulva. Bleeding or discharge unrelated to your period and lumps are other possible symptoms. vulvar cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms in some people.”
Yearly exams can improve the chances of early detection.
It’s important to see a healthcare professional for vaginal itching if the itching is severe enough to disrupt your daily life or sleep. Although most causes aren’t serious, a healthcare professional can help find and treat the root of your itch and offer advice — or a prescription — to help you find relief.
If your vaginal itching persists for more than a week or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, you should contact a healthcare professional.
- There are blisters on the vulvar.
- There is pain in the genital area.
- There is redness or swelling to the genitals.
- An unusual vaginal discharge.
- It is uncomfortable during sexual intercourse.
If you don’t already have an OB-GYN, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.
Your care team will ask you about your symptoms, including how long they have lasted. They may ask you about your sexual activities.
A pelvic exam is likely to be required.
A healthcare professional can use a speculum to look inside your vagina during a pelvic examination. They may put a gloved finger into your vagina. This allows them to check the reproductive organs.
They can collect a sample of skin tissue from your vagina or discharge. They can also perform blood or urine tests.
Once your healthcare professional finds the underlying cause of your vaginal itching, they will recommend treatment options. The treatment required depends on the condition that is causing the problem.
Vaginal yeast infections
Vaginal yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications. These come in various forms, including creams, ointments, or pills. They’re available by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC).
If you have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection, you should speak with a healthcare professional before using an OTC treatment.
Antibiotics are usually used to treat BV. You may take pills or creams to your vagina. Even if your symptoms improve, you should finish the entire course of antibiotics.
Antibiotics, antivirals, or antiparasitics can be used to treat the STI.
Your healthcare professional may recommend avoiding sex until the infection is gone.
Estradiol cream, tablets, and vaginal ring insert are some of the remedies for menopause-related itching.
Other types of vaginal itching and irritation are usually not that bad.
You can apply steroid creams or lotion to reduce inflammation and ease pain.
If you have any symptoms that get worse, see a healthcare professional and use steroid creams exactly as they are supposed to be used.
Here are some things you can do to keep your vaginal health in tip top shape.
- Use warm water and a gentle cleanser to wash your genital area.
- Do not use scented soaps, lotions, and bubble baths.
- Avoid using vaginal sprays and Douches. — your natural smell is just fine!
- You should change out of wet or damp clothing after exercising.
- Change your underwear daily.
- Use barrier methods when having sex.
- Get tested for STIs and encourage your partners to do the same.
- Always wipe front to back to keep bacteria from feces away from the vulva and vagina.