Occasionally, everyone gets an itch somewhere. A persistent itch can be very unpleasant, especially if it is in a sensitive place such as the genital area. It may disrupt your everyday activities such as hygiene, sleep, or social life. So what are the reasons for an itch “down there”? When do you need to worry? And how should you care for it?
Vaginal itching may indicate several conditions, including vaginal infections, allergies, or skin conditions.
You should see a doctor if the itching is severe enough to interfere with daily routines and sleep or is accompanied by other symptoms.
Cold compresses and soothing baths should reduce the itching.
The best way to cure vulvar itching is to tackle the underlying cause.
Possible reasons for vulvar itching
There are numerous causes of itching in the genital area. Usually, it is a sign of stress, irritation, dry skin, or hormonal changes. However, it can be a result of vaginal infections, skin disorders, pubic lice, or pin worm.
Itching can be a sign of an allergic reaction to any chemical irritants, such as material from underwear, detergents, condoms or lubricants, soaps, and creams. The best solution to calm the irritation is to stop the contact with an allergen. Antihistamines can be helpful in case of an allergic reaction. Sometimes corticosteroid creams are prescribed to relieve the ongoing symptoms.
Due to estrogen deficiency, the vaginal tissue starts to thin out and lose moisture. Therefore, peri-/menopausal women may have symptoms such as dryness, itching, burning in the genital area, and an uncomfortable feeling during sexual intercourse. It is called atrophic vaginitis and can be treated with estrogen and vaginal creams for hydration of the skin.
Certain infections can cause vaginal itching:
- Yeast infections. They are caused by a fungus called Candida. The vulva or vagina may itch, burn, or become irritated. Also, a thick (curd-like), white discharge may appear. It is treated with antifungal medicine.
- Bacterial vaginosis. It is caused by a change in the natural pH of the vagina due to the overgrowth of other bacteria. This leads to a gray, fishy-smelling discharge. It is sometimes accompanied by itching or irritation. It is treated with an antibiotic.
- Sexually transmitted infections. Several STIs can induce itching in the vulvar area. The most common are chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes. Apart from itching, other symptoms may include frequent and painful urination, changes in vaginal discharge, and painful genital sores. STIs can be cured with a dose of antibiotics, except for genital herpes, which is treated with antiviral medicine, such as valacyclovir.
Some skin disorders can cause vaginal itching:
- Psoriasis. It is a disease that damages the skin around the joints and scalp, but may spread to other areas, such as the vulva. Psoriatic rashes are very itchy, dry, and scaly. It is treated with a steroid cream and emollients.
- Atopic dermatitis. Eczema mostly affects people that are prone to allergies or have asthma. Usually, people who have eczema suffer from dry and itchy skin with rashes all over the body. It can be treated with a steroid and moisturizing creams.
- Lichen sclerosis. It is a rare disease that causes the formation of white, thin, wrinkly patches on the skin. The reason is unclear, however, it is more common in women after menopause or people who have other autoimmune diseases. The symptoms include thinning of the skin, soreness, and itching. The patches may leave a scar. Corticosteroid cream can be used to treat it.
Pubic lice infection induces vulvar itching and irritation (especially at night), and light bluish spots close to the bites. It may cause a fever. Pubic lice are usually spread by sharing towels and bedding or during sexual intercourse. The best way to treat this infection is with antiparasitic medicine (such as permethrin).
A pin worm infection is an intestinal infection brought on by Enterobius vermicularis (a tiny, thin, white roundworm). It is more common among children. Usually, it doesn't cause any symptoms. However, sometimes itching around the rectum is the only symptom, and it may spread to the genital area. The best way to treat it is with antiparasitic medicine (such as pyrantel).
Vulvar cancer is a very rare condition. It can cause ongoing vaginal itching that doesn’t get better. Other symptoms are lumps or thickening of the skin, changes in the color of the vulva, and red discharge not related to menstruation.
Relieve itching with home remedies
If you experience vaginal itching, some home remedies may provide relief:
- Cold compress. To ease symptoms, apply a cold cloth to the genital area.
- Bathing. Take chilly or warm (not hot) showers or baths. An oatmeal bath can soothe the itching skin.
- Cool lotion. Keep your unscented moisturizer or emollient in the fridge and apply it frequently on the itching area.
- Do not scratch. Avoid scratching the skin by patting the area instead.
- Climate control. Avoid extreme temperature changes.
- Stay calm. Reduce stress, as stress might worsen the itch.
Tips to prevent itching of the vulva
Here are some suggestions to prevent vulvar itching:
- Keep up with hygiene. Keep the genital area dry and clean. To clean the genitalia, use either warm water or mild, unscented soap. Avoid excessive washing.
- No irritants. Refrain from douching and using feminine products with strong scents, such as tampons, sanitary pads, and pantyliners. Use sensitive skin-friendly washing detergent or powder.
- Avoid moisture. As soon as you finish swimming or working out, change into clean, dry clothing. Wear loose-fitting clothes and cotton underwear throughout the day, and avoid wearing any underwear while you sleep to keep the genital area dry.
Do not scratch. Maintain neat, short, and smooth nails to avoid skin damage.
- Practice safe sex. To prevent STIs, use condoms during sexual intercourse.
When should you contact the doctor?
If the itching is severe enough to interfere with regular activities or sleep, it is useful to consult with a doctor. Moreover, a medical opinion would be helpful if the itching presents with other symptoms, like:
- Change in vaginal discharge;
- Sensitivity or pain in the genital area;
- Rashes or sores of the vulva;
- Genital erythema (redness);
- Painful urination;
- Uncomfortable sexual intercourse.
Vaginal itching can be a sign of various disorders including infections, allergies, and skin diseases. Although there are ways to relieve the itching, the best way to treat it is to take care of the underlying problem. If the itching is persistent, and you have additional symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Vaginitis.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to Relieve Itchy Skin?
- UpToDate. Patient education: Vulvar lichen sclerosus (Beyond the Basics).