What Is vaginal itching?
Women may experience vaginal itching inside their vagina or their external genitals. The sensation may drive the urge to scratch the area for relief. Short episodes of vaginal itching often resolve without further treatment.
However, the condition may be a sign of another existing medical problem if it persists or is accompanied by other symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of vaginal itching
Vaginal itching may be accompanied by other symptoms like:
- Vaginal discharge
- Dryness in the vagina
- An unusual odor coming from the vagina
- Burning sensation
- Vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina
- Painful intercourse
Factors that can contribute to a vaginal environment that causes itching and other related symptoms include:
- Not maintaining good hygiene
- An imbalance in the vaginal pH
- Douching frequently
- Taking antibiotics
- Having a foreign body embedded in the vagina
The severity of the symptoms that accompany vaginal itching can vary depending on the underlying cause. You may wish to make an appointment with a doctor if your symptoms do not resolve within a few weeks.
Causes of vaginal itching
The reason why you may be experiencing vaginal itching can be affected by factors like your age. Below are some common reasons that women find themselves experiencing vaginal itching.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a form of vaginitis caused by an overproduction of harmful bacteria. It occurs at the same time as a decrease in the bacteria responsible for maintaining a healthy balance in the vaginal environment.
The condition typically occurs in women between the ages of 15 to 44. African American women are twice as likely to end up with BV than Caucasian women. Other factors that can put you at risk for developing BV include:
- Multiple sex partners
- Not using condoms or dental dams during sexual activity
- Having an intrauterine device (IUD)
While BV can be passed through sexual activity, the condition can also occur in women who are not sexually active. Vaginal itching can be one of the symptoms that women with BV experience.
Contact dermatitis is a condition where the skin becomes irritated because of exposure to specific compounds or products. You may find yourself experiencing vaginal itching if you continually expose your vagina to the following items:
- Laundry detergents
- Certain body soaps
- Douches and other feminine products
Sexually transmitted disease
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) typically pass from person to person via sexual contact. It’s also possible to contract an STD through kissing or other kinds of body contact. Sexually transmitted diseases that can have symptoms that include vaginal itching include:
Genital warts — Genital warts are caused by contracting human papillomavirus (HPV). It can lead to symptoms like skin warts along with itching around the vagina. People can also contract HPV through oral sex.
Herpes — Herpes is a viral infection that can lead to sores and blisters in the genital area. It can also spread to other body parts like the eyes and brain. Recurrent vaginal itching can be a sign of a herpes infection. A doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can alleviate your symptoms.
Gonorrhea — Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can lead to serious damage to a woman’s reproductive organs. It’s caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria and is typically passed through some form of sexual interaction. You can also contract gonorrhea by contacting bodily fluids containing the bacteria.
Chlamydia — Chlamydia can be passed from person to person through sexual contact. While the condition usually does not cause visible symptoms, women can experience vaginal itching because of a chlamydia infection.
Pubic Lice — Pubic lice, often referred to as crabs, can get into the hairs of the genital area. The organisms can also be passed by using objects infested with public lice like clothing, bedding, or towels. Pubic lice can spread to other areas of the body, like your eyelashes. Along with vaginal itching, you might also notice the appearance of bite marks in that area.
Diagnosis and tests for vaginal itching
Doctors typically start by asking questions about your vaginal itching and any accompanying symptoms. They will likely also want information about your past medical history, including any past or current STDs. From there, they usually conduct a physical exam of your vagina and genital area.
If there is discharge present, the doctor may decide to take a sample and examine it for signs of various microorganisms. They usually send that sample for laboratory testing to look for signs of a possible STD.
Treatments for vaginal itching
Your doctor may recommend that you use certain prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve the symptoms. Some lifestyle changes they may suggest to alleviate your vaginal itching can include:
- Showering once per day
- Changing your underwear more frequently
- Using an unscented body powder with cornstarch to help keep the vaginal area dry
- Avoiding talc-based body powders
- Washing with a nonallergenic soap or only warm water
- Not using creams, douches, or feminine hygiene sprays
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Merck Manual: "Genital Itching."
Merck Manual: "Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Infections."
Merck Manual: "Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection."
Merck Manual: "Lice Infestation."
Merck Manual: "Vaginal Itching and Discharge."
Office on Women's Health: "Bacterial Vaginosis."
Office on Women's Health: "Gonorrhea."
University of Iowa Healthcare: "Contact dermatitis of the vulva."
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