Vaginal itching or itchy vagina: causes and symptoms

Vaginal itching is a tickling sensation in the vagina and/or a burning sensation in the vagina. Vaginal itching or itchy vagina is a common complaint. Itching or irritation can occur anywhere on the body and cause discomfort locally or over larger areas. But when itching or burning occurs in a sensitive area such as the vagina, it can be extremely uncomfortable and annoying. Vaginal itching and irritation or a burning sensation in the vagina usually has a relatively harmless cause. However, vaginal itching can also indicate a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and in that case it is advisable to consult your doctor. For many causes of vaginal itching, a burning sensation in the vagina or irritation in the vagina, self-care helps in combination with medical treatment, if necessary. Good hygiene is important to stop vaginal itching, but you can also use simple home remedies to get temporary relief from the symptoms.

  • Vaginal itching
  • Mold, STDs and irritants
  • Transition
  • Stress
  • Causes of an itchy vagina
  • Symptoms of vaginal itching
  • Itchy vagina due to infections
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis)
  • Cystitis
  • Vaginal itching due to an STD
  • Chlamydia
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Genital herpes
  • Genital Warts
  • Gonorrhea
  • Itchy vagina due to hormones
  • Transition
  • Breastfeeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Irritants
  • Creams, intimate sprays and detergent
  • Lubricant and condoms
  • Skin conditions
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Lichen sclerosus
  • Internal itching due to stress
  • Itching in the vagina due to cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Consult your doctor if you experience vaginal itching or a burning sensation
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Medical treatment of vaginal itching
  • Tips for an itchy vagina
  • Self-care measures for itchy vagina
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Cold compress
  • Saltwater pool
  • Garlic
  • Yogurt
  • Prognosis

 

Vaginal itching is an annoying complaint / Source: Istock.com/Attila Barabas

Vaginal itching

Mold, STDs and irritants

Although vaginal itching is the hallmark of yeast infections and other vaginal infections (including sexually transmitted diseases), itching in the vagina and vulva has multiple causes. Vaginal itching can also be caused by irritating chemicals that can be found in detergents or soaps, vaginal douches and creams, toilet paper, bath products, feminine hygiene products and vaginal contraceptives (e.g. NuvaRing®).

Transition

Menopausal women may experience vaginal itching due to fluctuations in estrogen levels. As estrogen levels decrease in perimenopause, the vaginal wall becomes thinner and drier and itching may occur.

Stress

Some studies have shown a link between psychological stress and vaginal yeast infections. This is likely due to the fact that stress is known to have a negative effect on the immune system and can potentially increase the risk of developing a yeast infection in women and men.

Examination by a gynecologist for vaginal itching / Source: Doro Guzenda/Shutterstock.com

Causes of an itchy vagina

Vaginal itching or an itchy vagina is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptom that often occurs due to irritants, infections, or menopause. It can also occur due to certain skin conditions or sexually transmitted infections (STDs). In rare cases, vaginal itching can be caused by stress or vaginal cancer.
Most forms of vaginal itching are not a cause for concern. However, you should contact your doctor or gynecologist if the itching is severe or if you suspect an underlying condition. The doctor can determine the cause of the vaginal itching through examination and testing. He or she can also recommend suitable treatments for this annoying complaint.

Symptoms of vaginal itching

Vaginal itching is a symptom and not a condition. Itching in the vagina is often accompanied by other complaints in the pubic area. The main symptoms of vaginal itching are:

  • red, swollen labia
  • burning sensation or irritation

Vaginal itching and lower abdominal pain / Source: Istock.com/Wavebreakmedia

  • vaginal dryness or dry vagina
  • changed vaginal discharge (abnormal color, amount of discharge, odor and structure)
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • pain or irritation during sex
  • a vaginal swelling
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • redness of labia

 

Itchy vagina due to infections

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina, which leads to all kinds of complaints and symptoms in a number of women. Common symptoms include abnormal discharge and a foul odor from the vagina (a fishy odor). Bacterial vaginosis is not a contagious condition or STD, but an infection caused by a disturbance of the acidity in the vagina. As a result of the disturbed acidity, certain bacteria, which normally only live in small numbers in the vagina, are given the opportunity to expand significantly. The vaginal balance can be disturbed by, for example, a new sexual partner, the insertion of an IUD, the use of antibiotics, or by washing your vagina with soap. These factors increase the chance of developing bacterial vaginosis. In addition, factors such as age, origin and hormone levels also influence the acidity in the vagina.

Yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis)

About three in four women develop a yeast infection at some point in their lives. Yeast infections can occur when the yeast, Candida albicans (a yeast-like fungus naturally present in and on the human body), grows excessively in the vagina and vulva. Factors that can promote an infection include pregnancy, sexual intercourse, antibiotic use and a weakened immune system. There is an increase in vaginal discharge, which is white or yellowish in color, slightly friable and odorless. It may resemble a cheesy discharge. You may also experience a burning or itching sensation in the vagina and the skin around the vagina may be somewhat irritated, which manifests itself in redness and (sometimes severe) itching. Sexual intercourse can be a painful experience with a yeast infection.

Location of the kidneys and bladder / Source: Nerthuz/Shutterstock.com

Cystitis

Bladder infections are common, especially in women. With a bladder infection, the mucous membrane of the bladder is inflamed as a result of bacteria, which normally reside mainly in the rectum and around the anus. These troublemakers can get into the urethra and bladder in various ways, for example if you wipe your anus from back to front after defecating and during sex. A bladder infection often causes you to urinate small amounts and urination often feels burning. You may also feel pain in your lower abdomen and you may urinate blood.

Vaginal itching due to an STD

Sexually transmitted infections (STDs) such as chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, trichomoniasis and gonorrhea can cause vaginal itching and irritation in a woman.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common. In the majority of women, an infection occurs without symptoms. Symptoms usually develop within one to three weeks after infection with the bacteria. Complaints in women include pain or a burning sensation when urinating; vaginal discharge; intermediate bleeding; pain or blood loss during or after sexual intercourse; pain in the lower abdomen or upper right side of the abdomen.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. You get it through unprotected sexual contact, but possibly also through a shared towel. Complaints arise a few days to weeks after infection. Women often have no complaints. If you do experience problems, the symptoms often consist of an inflamed vagina, red and irritated skin, and urination can be painful and foamy.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is one of the most common STDs in the Netherlands. Women who have genital herpes may not feel any symptoms. The virus is dormant and when the virus becomes active, a herpes outbreak occurs.

Genital Warts

Genital warts are a very contagious STD. A virus is the culprit. Groups of pink-red to gray-white warts develop around the vagina and you may also experience itching, pain or a burning sensation.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is an STD caused by a bacterium, neisseria gonorrohoeae or gonococcus. Women often notice little or nothing of gonorrhea. They may experience burning urination and smelly green-yellow discharge from the vagina.

Itchy vagina due to hormones

Hormonal fluctuations can cause vaginal itching.

Transition

Vaginal dryness can also cause complaints such as itching. Vaginal dryness is mainly caused by a decrease in the amount of estrogen in the body. During menopause, estrogen production decreases, which can lead to itching and irritation. A medicine such as Estradiol replenishes the amount of estrogen in the vaginal mucosa, which has a beneficial effect on the irritation, pain and itching complaints in the vagina due to a lack of estrogen. A decrease in the amount of estrogen in the body can also occur during the menstrual cycle and during breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding

An itchy vagina can sometimes be the result of low estrogen levels that occur during breastfeeding.

Vaginal itching during pregnancy / Source: Zerocool, Pixabay

Pregnancy

One of the reasons why you may experience vaginal itching during pregnancy is that your body needs more fluid. This can cause the vaginal tissues to be drier than normal. This can lead to itching and even pain and scratching will make it worse. Another cause is excessive sweat that can collect in the crevices around the vulva, folds of the legs and entrance to the vagina. Warm moist areas can easily become irritated and cause itching. Certain products that you normally use every day can disrupt the vaginal area during pregnancy. Products such as perfumed soaps, fabric softener, laundry detergent, condoms and vaginal douches often irritate the vagina during pregnancy because the tissue is more sensitive. Some other causes of vaginal itching during pregnancy include the following:

  • bacterial vaginosis
  • vaginal yeast infection
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • urinary tract infection

 

Irritants

Creams, intimate sprays and detergent

Certain chemicals found in creams, shampoos, spermicides, lubricants, intimate sprays, condoms, laundry detergent, soap, scented toilet paper and fabric softener can irritate the vagina and cause itching. Some women may have an allergic reaction to latex condoms, which can result in vaginal itching or irritation. It is wise to wash the vagina once a day with lukewarm water, without using soap. Soap is bad for the vagina. Lactic acid is produced in the vagina, which protects against all possible external influences. However, this balance can be disturbed by, for example, washing your vagina with regular soap. This has a pH of 7 and if you clean your vagina with this, you disrupt the acidity. So don’t do that.

Coconut oil / Source: Phu Thinh Co, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Lubricant and condoms

If you have recently tried a new lubricant with your partner or you have not used enough lubricant (in case of vaginal dryness), this can cause vaginal itching and discomfort. Many lubricants contain alcohol, which can be very irritating to the vagina and some people may be allergic to something they use, including latex, which is found in most types of condoms. Intercourse when the vagina is not moist enough can cause friction, resulting in itching and pain. If you don’t use condoms, you can use coconut oil as a natural lubricant. Please note that oil reduces the quality of latex and increases the risk of condom rupture. If you use condoms, choose a water-based lubricant that is fragrance-free to increase pleasure. Consider polyisoprene (latex-free) condoms if you have a latex allergy.

Skin conditions

Some skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, can cause redness and itching in the genital area.

Eczema

Eczema is a rash that mainly occurs in people with asthma or allergies. In some women with eczema, it can spread to the vagina.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin condition in which red and flaky patches are prominent. These spots can appear all over the body, including around the vagina. The precise cause of psoriasis is not known.

Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a chronic skin condition that usually occurs on the labia, the entrance to the vagina, the anus, the glans or the foreskin. You experience itching, it feels tight and tight and white spots appear.

Vaginal itching due to stress / Source: Ruigsantos/Shutterstock.com

Internal itching due to stress

Physical and emotional stress can cause internal itching, vaginal itching and irritation, although this is not very common. It can occur when stress weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections that cause itching.

Itching in the vagina due to cancer

Vaginal cancer

In rare cases, vaginal itching can be a symptom of vaginal cancer. In its early stages, vaginal cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. As the disease process progresses, vaginal cancer can cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • unusual vaginal bleeding, for example after sexual intercourse or after menopause
  • watery vaginal discharge
  • notice a lump or swelling in your vagina
  • pain when urinating
  • frequent urination
  • constipation
  • pelvic pain

 

Cervical cancer / Source: Designua/Shutterstock.com

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a form of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Several strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, play a role in causing most cases of cervical cancer. In its early stages, cervical cancer generally does not cause any signs or symptoms. Symptoms of more advanced cervical cancer include:

  • vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between menstruations or after menopause
  • watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
  • pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

 

Consult your doctor if you experience vaginal itching or a burning sensation

If you have persistent vaginal itching, you would be wise to visit your doctor. The GP can ask you all kinds of specific questions (taking a history), perform a physical examination and, if necessary, take a smear that can be examined in the laboratory. The doctor can assess what causes the vaginal itching and what you can best do about it.

Speculum or duckbill / Source: Saltanat, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Examination and diagnosis

Your doctor will ask all kinds of questions about the nature, severity, extent and frequency of your complaints. The doctor may also ask questions about your sex life; Who have you slept with lately and did you do so safely? The doctor will also likely perform a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will visually inspect the vulva and use a speculum to look inside the vagina. The doctor may press on your abdomen while inserting a gloved finger into your vagina. This allows the reproductive organs to be checked for abnormalities. The doctor may also remove a piece of skin tissue from the vulva or take a sample of your discharge for further examination. The doctor may also perform blood tests and urine tests.

Medical treatment of vaginal itching

Once the doctor has found the underlying cause of your vaginal itching, a treatment will be suggested. The specific treatment depends on the specific condition causing the problem:

  • Vaginal yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications. These come in different forms, including creams, ointments or pills. They are available with a prescription or over the counter.
  • Bacterial vaginosis is often treated with antibiotics. These can be administered as pills that you take orally or as creams that you insert into your vagina.
  • STDs are treated with antibiotics, antivirals or antiparasitics.
  • Menopause-related itching can be treated with estrogen cream, tablets or a vaginal ring.

 

Yogurt with active cultures / Source: Rainer Zenz, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Tips for an itchy vagina

You can prevent most causes of vaginal itching by practicing good hygiene and certain lifestyle habits. There are several steps you can take at home to prevent vaginal irritation and infection:

  • Wash vagina with lukewarm water and do not use regular soap because that disrupts the acidity.
  • Avoid scented soaps, lotions and bubble baths.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene products such as vaginal sprays and douches.
  • Change clothes immediately after swimming or exercising if you have wet or damp clothing.
  • Wear cotton underwear and change your underwear every day.
  • Eat yogurt with active cultures to reduce the chance of developing yeast infections.
  • Use condoms during intercourse.
  • Always wipe your bottom from front to back after pooping.

 

Cloudy apple cider vinegar / Source: Veganbaking.net, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Self-care measures for itchy vagina

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a good remedy for vaginal itching because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It also helps restore the natural pH balance of your vagina. Add 2 tablespoons of cloudy, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water. Use this solution to wash your vagina twice a day for a few days. Also add 1 tablespoon of cloudy, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon of raw honey to a glass of warm water and drink it twice a day.

Cold compress

Use a cold compress to get instant relief from vaginal itching. It will help numb the area and reduce itching and inflammation. You can also rinse the vaginal area with cold water a few times a day.

Saltwater pool

Enjoying a saltwater bath can also relieve vaginal itching. Salt inhibits the growth of the microbes that cause infection and in turn reduces itching and other discomforts. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to a glass of water and use it to wash your vagina whenever you feel itching. This will give you immediate relief. Or fill your bathtub with warm water and add half a cup of salt. Sit in the water in a squatting position for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 2 or 3 times a day for several days for best results. Do not use salt remedies if you have (open) wounds.

Garlic / Source: Istock.com/Mallivan

Garlic

Garlic contains both antibacterial and antibiotic properties that can kill bacteria and yeast. It also improves the immune system and helps the body fight infections. Dilute a few drops of garlic oil with 1 teaspoon of vitamin E oil and apply it to the affected area. Wait 10 minutes and then rinse with lukewarm water. Use this remedy twice a day for a few weeks. Also eat 3 cloves of raw garlic daily. Alternatively, you can also take garlic supplements.

Yogurt

Plain, unsweetened yogurt with active cultures is another good remedy to stop itching and burning in and around your vagina. The active cultures can prevent the spread of the infection in the body. It also helps kill yeast and bad bacteria in the vagina and promote the growth of good bacteria. Dip a tampon in yogurt and place it in the vagina for two hours. Do this twice a day until you experience relief from your symptoms. Also eat a few cups of unsweetened yogurt every day.

Prognosis

Vaginal itching that is not a symptom of an underlying disease is usually easily treated with the self-care measures mentioned above. Itching and other symptoms can usually be relieved within a few weeks of diagnosis.

read more

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