Quite a few women occasionally suffer from vaginal itching. It is usually not a serious issue and is often short-lived. However, if the itching is so severe that it bothers your daily life or if the itching persists for a long time or comes back regularly, it is best to consult your doctor to identify possible causes and treat them if necessary.
In this article, we will show you the possible causes of your vaginal itching.
In women of childbearing age, vaginal itching is often caused by a fungal infection (Candida). If the itching is accompanied by crumbly white loss, a burning sensation when urinating and red discoloration, the risk of a fungal infection is high.
You have an increased chance of getting a fungal infection if you have diabetes, are pregnant, or using antibiotics.
The infection is quite easy to treat with special creams or vaginal tablets but can drag on for a
while. It is important that the entire treatment is followed through. Otherwise, the infection may not completely be gone. Repeated candida infections are difficult to treat.
The main cause of candida is bowel movements that come into contact with the vagina. The bacteria in the bowel can lead to an infection of the mucous membrane in the vagina. So never wipe your butt up in the direction of your vagina.
Also, try to disturb the natural state (acidity) of the vagina as little as possible; do not use intimate
sprays or vaginal showers, if possible limit the use of antibiotics, change your tampons regularly, do not wear tight-fitting clothing.
Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vagina, usually caused by too strong a growth of bacteria (Gardnerella, Streptococcus…) that normally occur in the vagina. It can be accompanied by vaginal itching and/or pain, a burning sensation when urinating, and an abnormal, bad-smelling vaginal discharge. This condition can be treated with antibiotics.
To prevent this type of infection, try to disturb the natural state (acidity) of the vagina as little as possible.
- Do not use soap when washing the vagina but rinse the pubic area with lukewarm water.
- Limit the use of intimate sprays or vaginal showers.
- Change your sanitary towels or tampon regularly.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothing all the time.
- Keep in mind that a IUD may increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis.
Lichen sclerosus is a relatively common persistent chronic skin abnormality that usually occurs on the labia, vagina, and anus. The skin loses its elasticity and feels firm and tight, causing white spots and severe itching and pain around the genitals. It occurs mainly in women between the age of 50 and 70, but younger women (and men and children) can also have it. It’s probably an autoimmune disorder.
The main complaint is itching and/or a burning sensation of the affected skin. With heat, for example in bed, the itching can worsen.
Lichen sclerosus cannot be cured. But the main complaints, such as itching and pain, can usually be treated quite well. In young girls, the condition sometimes disappears spontaneously during puberty. The itching and pain complaints can usually be treated fairly well with cortisone ointment or lotion.
In case of serious and persistent complaints, your doctor may also prescribe other medicines (such as tacrolimus or pimecrolimus).
On the other hand, treatment with UVA light is not recommended.
Sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs, STIs)
Vaginal itching may indicate a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This is often accompanied by other complaints such as pain, burning sensation when urinating, abnormal vaginal discharge, rashes and/or bumps and vesicles.
STDs that can cause itching include herpes genitalis, trichomonas, scabies, and genital warts.
If the vaginal itching arose after unprotected sex, it is always advisable to consult a doctor.
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus is almost always transmitted through sexual contact. Warts can cause vaginal itching, pain, and/or abnormal discharge and are highly contagious.
There is no effective treatment of genital warts yet. Most people will overcome HPV infection on their own. The immune system cleans up the virus itself and the warts disappear spontaneously. Usually, this happens within a year.
If warts do remain, various treatments are possible:
- The doctor can freeze the warts by pressing them with liquid nitrogen.
- If the warts are larger, the doctor can also choose to cut them away via laser therapy.
- The doctor may also prescribe a cream that you can apply to the warts for several weeks until they have disappeared.
There is also a vaccine against HPV today that can prevent genital warts.
Genital herpes is a highly contagious STI, caused by the herpes virus, that can also cause vaginal itching. There are two types of the herpes virus that can be transmitted through sexual contact. Herpes genitalis occurs on the genitals. Herpes labialis (or cold sore) is on the lips. Both virus types can basically affect any area of skin and adjacent mucous membranes, so cold sores can also cause genital herpes and vice versa.
Herpes can be recognized by small, painful vesicles or ulcers on or in the ass and/or vagina. They heal spontaneously after a few weeks. However, the virus stays in your body for life. Menstruation, flu, a poor immune system, or stress can trigger another herpes attack.
However, there are medications that reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. You should then start treatment soon after the start of complaints.
Do you have several flare-ups in quick succession? Then talk to your doctor to see if you are eligible for long-term treatment.
Trichomonas is an STI caused by infection with a parasite (Trichomonas vaginalis) that can also be the cause of vaginal itching. The parasite is usually caused by sexual contact but can also live for several hours outside the body in urine, vaginal fluid, or semen. So, you can also get infected with trichomonas by sitting on a damp toilet seat.
Trichomonas can be accompanied by vaginal itching, greenish-yellow frothy vaginal discharge, pain when urinating, and irritation of the skin around the vagina. The condition is treated with antibiotics. Usually, a short treatment of several days is sufficient.
Since the risk of infection is quite high, your sex partners from the past 6 weeks must also be treated. You can prevent trichomonas by using a condom when having sex.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in the United States. More than half of women who are infected have no symptoms at all. If complaints do occur, they usually appear two weeks after the infection. The most common complaints are vaginal discharge, interim blood lesions, pain and irritation of the pubic area, and vaginal itching when accompanied by poor hygiene.
Chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics. Your sex partners from the past 6 months also need to be examined and possibly treated.
When chlamydia is not treated, the inflammation can ‘take off’. In the longer term, especially in women, the complications can be serious. The best way to protect yourself from this STI is to use a condom when having sex.
Gonorrhea, better known as dripping, is a highly contagious STI. It is caused by a bacterium (gonococci). In women, this usually does not cause complaints. Possible symptoms include vaginal discharge with green fluids, pain during sex and irritation with itching of the pubic or spike region.
When gonorrhea is not treated, the consequences can be serious, especially in women. Gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics. Your sex partner(s) of the last 6 weeks should also be treated, even if they have no symptoms.
The best way to protect yourself from gonorrhea is to use a condom.
Scabies, caused by the scabies mite, is another condition that can cause vaginal itching. The females dig corridors into the skin and lay their eggs there. Small red-purple bumps can form on the genitals. Scabies causes persistent itching, especially in the evening and at night, but is otherwise not severe. Scratching does not help and may damage the skin on the contrary.
Scabies is usually transmitted through intimate physical contact. You can also get it by sleeping in the bed of someone who has scabies or wearing their clothes. It’s very contagious.
Scabies can be treated with a cream or gel. Bed linen, towels, and clothes must also be washed. The dead scabies mites can still cause vaginal itching sometimes after treatment.
It is important that your partner(s) and possibly others with whom you share bed or clothes are also treated. Even if they have no symptoms, they may still be infected.
Pubic lice are transmitted through sexual contact but also through towels, bed linen or mattresses. The itching is often located on the skin of the vulva (the external part of the vagina) where red spots are formed. The itching is often the worst at night.
Infection with pubic lice can be treated quickly and well with anti-lice lotions or creams. You should also shave off your pubic hair to get rid of the eggs.
The lice can also be present in areas such as the lower abdomen, between the buttocks and thighs. A partner with the same complaints must be treated at the same time.
Bedding and clothing must be washed at least 60°C.
Pinworms are mainly common in young children, but adults can also get pinworm infections.
A worm infection usually causes itching around the anus, especially at night, but the itching can also reach the pubic area.
When one family member has pinworm, the other family members are usually also infected and should also be treated with an anti-worm agent.
In women around and after menopause, vaginal itching can be caused by hormone deficiency. As a result of menopause or the onset of it, less vaginal fluid is produced, which makes the vagina drier.
The same phenomenon can sometimes occur in the second half of the menstrual cycle or when using hormonal contraception.
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by patches that are well-demarcated, red, raised, and covered with whitish scales, or a thin silvery film that peels off easily. Psoriasis can cause vaginal itching.
The tendency to scratch should absolutely be suppressed. After all, scratching can only exacerbate inflammation.
Contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with substances you are allergic to. Contact dermatitis often causes a red itchy rash with flakes, bumps, vesicles, fissures, or scabs. Sometimes the skin gets swollen as well.
Sometimes the cause is clear, and you can easily recognize the products that cause the complaints yourself. Known allergic substances that can cause symptoms are condoms, perfumed or colored toilet paper, underwear or swimwear, soap, talcum powder, intimate sprays, panty liners, and spermicidal lotions.
A hormone cream or ointment can help suppress the worst symptoms. Cold compresses can help with vaginal itching.
Vaginal itching can also be due to irritation of the skin due to, for example, too tight clothing, sweat, care products, detergents, shaving of the pubic hair. Urinary incontinence can also cause itchy skin irritation.
- Avoid tight clothing.
- Wear loose cotton underwear. Don’t wear underwear at night.
- Do not use too much soap. This dries out the skin and can damage the skin.
- Do not use perfumed sprays or cleaning products. Do not use vaginal rinses.
- Use unscented detergent and do not use fabric softener for your underwear.
- Replace tampons and sanitary towels regularly. Do not use panty liners. When to consult a doctor?
In the following cases, it is best to consult your doctor:
- You suffer a lot from the itching,
- The itching does not pass spontaneously after a few days or comes back regularly,
- The itching is accompanied by other complaints such as a burning sensation when urinating, pain, abnormal or bad smelling vaginal discharge, rash, or red discoloration,
- If an STD is suspected.
Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.