Common causes, symptoms and treatments
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Vulvar and vaginal itching are common. There are several possible causes, including irritation, yeast infections, and certain skin conditions.
The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals, including the labia, clitoris, bladder opening, and vaginal opening. The vagina is the inner tube that connects the uterus to the vulva.
People may feel itchy around the vulva or inside the vagina. Symptoms and specific treatments will depend on the cause.
This article provides an overview of some common causes of vaginal and vulvar itching, along with links to more detailed articles.
Minor vulvar itching is often the result of using products that irritate the sensitive skin around the genitals. These may include:
- menstrual pads
- some materials in underwear
- underwear washed with scented laundry detergent
- creams, soaps or lotions, especially scent brands
- latex condoms
- perfumes in deodorants or showers
The itching usually goes away once the person stops using these products. Products that are fragrance-free and fragrance-free are less likely to cause irritation.
Healthcare professionals do not recommend using products to cleanse the vagina. The vagina cleans itself. Douches and other vaginal cleansers can cause irritation and interfere with her ability to cleanse herself.
Friction or irritation from underwear, skin folds, or sexual activity can also cause itching in this area.
Avoid scratching or rubbing the skin when you feel itchy, as this can make the itching worse.
People who suspect they might be allergic to latex can ask their doctor about alternatives to latex condoms. Latex-free condoms are available over the counter and online.
Many women will experience a vaginal yeast infection, or vaginal candidiasis, in their lifetime. Yeast infections develop due to an overgrowth of Candidiasis in the vagina.
Yeast infections are usually not serious, but the symptoms can be bothersome.
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth can include:
- vaginal itching or burning
- odorless white or clear discharge
- vaginal irritation
Yeast infections usually occur when something upsets the balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Normally, a balance of beneficial bacteria and yeast lives in the vagina. Bacteria keep the yeast under control, preventing overgrowth. However, when bacteria in the vagina do not properly control the yeast, an overgrowth can occur.
Some common causes of yeast infections include hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or due to the use of a hormonal contraceptive, and the use of a douche.
People can also develop a yeast infection by using antibiotics. Having a weakened immune system or uncontrolled diabetes can also increase the risk of yeast infections.
Learn more about yeast infections and how to get rid of them here.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common bacterial infection. It often affects women of childbearing age. It occurs when there is an imbalance of normal beneficial bacteria in the vagina.
People can have BV without symptoms. If symptoms appear, they may
- itching, pain, or burning inside the vagina
- itching around the outside of the vagina
- thin white or gray vaginal discharge
- an unpleasant smell, especially after sex
It can be difficult to tell the difference between BV and a yeast infection. Find out more here.
Healthcare professionals don’t know the exact causes of BV, but some have linked sexual activity and douching to the disease.
It affects sexually active people, but it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Many women have BV without knowing it. It can be harmful if they get pregnant. If a woman has symptoms during her pregnancy or tries to become one, she should see her doctor to find out the cause.
Learn more about BV and how to treat it here.
Common skin conditions can cause itching around the vulva. These include:
Severe itching around the vulva may indicate lichen sclerosus or lichen planus.
If a person suspects any of these skin conditions, they can work with their healthcare professional to find the best treatment strategies.
STIs are a group of infections that a person can get after having sexual contact with someone who has one.
Various STIs can cause vaginal or vulvar itching or discomfort, including:
It is important to seek treatment for STIs, as some can cause long-term problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, or pregnancy complications. Women can also pass some STIs to the baby during childbirth.
A person should always seek treatment if they suspect an STI.
Less commonly, healthcare professionals may check for neuropathy or cancer of the vulva.
Neuropathy, or nerve damage, is a well-known cause of itching.
the American Cancer Society don’t mention vaginal itching as a symptom of vaginal cancer.
Vulvar and vaginal itching is common and has many potential causes. In many cases, itching is due to irritation from clothing, menstrual products, or perfumes. Avoiding these triggers can help prevent itching.
In other cases, fungal or bacterial infections can be the cause. This is more likely when the itching affects the inside of the vagina.
Some skin conditions can also cause itching around the genitals, including psoriasis, folliculitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
A healthcare professional can usually diagnose the cause and suggest appropriate treatments. In most cases, the cause is treatable.