7 Reasons Your Vagina Itches

Vaginal itching is one of the most common complaints in a gynecologist's office—what can cause it?

Many people with vaginas experience itchiness, which can be worrisome even when it's mild. And the reasons for the symptom can range from benign (your choice of underwear) to more worrisome (a sexually transmitted infection, or STI). That's why it's essential to figure out what's going on.

You may not need to see a healthcare professional for every unusual itch, Julianna Schantz-Dunn, MD, an OB-GYN at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told Health. Dr. Schantz-Dunn recommended making an appointment if symptoms stick around for more than two days or if, along with the scratchiness, you have unusual bleeding or lesions in the area.

Here are seven possible causes of vaginal itching, plus the best advice for addressing each one.

Yeast Infection

The most widely known cause of itching is yeast infections. Those infections are very common—three-fourths of cisgender women will get one at some point. The hallmark symptom is extreme itchiness and an odorless thick, white discharge.

"We suggest you at least call your doctor to discuss your symptoms rather than going to the drugstore to buy an OTC [over-the-counter] treatment," explained Dr. Schantz-Dunn. "If you randomly self-treat and it's not a yeast infection, you can make the problem worse."

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis (trich) is a common and treatable STI caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. An estimated more than two million cases in the United States in 2018. In 30% of those cases, trich didn't cause any symptoms.

Dr. Schantz-Dunn explained that symptoms include itching, burning, a change in discharge, or external white cracking in the skin. 

"You may assume it's a yeast infection and try an OTC antifungal, and it doesn't work. Then you try douching, and that makes it worse," added Dr. Schantz-Dunn.

That's all the more reason to see a healthcare provider first. If tests for trich come back positive, it's effortless to cure you and your partner with an antibiotic.

Irritation

Dr. Schantz-Dunn said that the top three most common causes of itching are irritation caused by specific fabrics or products.

 "We often talk to patients about good vulvar hygiene," mentioned Dr. Schantz-Dunn.

Taking good care of your vulva includes not wearing scented panty liners (and not wearing panty liners too much overall), avoiding scented soaps, and absolutely never douching or using scented sprays or powders.

Not following those recommendations can kickstart the problem; scratching can lead to infection. Besides, scented and other irritating products can also change the pH of the vagina, making you more susceptible to an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV).

Also, your vagina needs to breathe. Suffocating it with synthetic underwear traps moisture against your skin, irritating it. Switch to cotton, Dr. Schantz-Dunn recommended. And be sure you're gently washing up with regular, unscented soaps around the outside of the vagina only.

Bacterial Vaginosis

While this vaginal infection can cause some itching, Dr. Schantz-Dunn warned that, more often, the hallmark symptom of BV is a foul-smelling vaginal discharge.

Suppose you call a healthcare provider and explain your intense itch. In that case, they will more likely think it points to a yeast infection, trichomoniasis, or irritation, Dr. Schantz-Dunn said. Be sure to note all your symptoms, including details about discharge, which can go a long way in identifying your issue.

Herpes

You may think you could spot genital herpes, but not everyone gets prominent lesions that are easy to see. Many people have mild to non-existent symptoms.

"You may feel some itching or painful urination, but the symptoms may not be as severe as you'd think," explained Dr. Schantz-Dunn. "I've seen people try to treat herpes with a topical yeast medication—and that doesn't do much."

Instead, ask a healthcare provider to evaluate all your symptoms and their severity. Topical creams and other prescriptions can help ease discomfort and reduce outbreak time.

Shaving Aftermath

When you shave your pubic hair, it may feel smooth at the moment, but the skin may get itchy when the hair grows back. In fact, one of the most commonly reported problems people experience while removing public hair is severe itching.

"[Cisgender women] know their bodies well, and if they know they get irritated from shaving, I say don't do it," noted Dr. Schantz-Dunn. 

A vagina-friendlier way to remove pubic hair: Trim the hair or get a bikini wax.

Hormonal Changes

If you're post-menopausal—if your period has naturally stopped for more than a year—the source of the itch could be your vagina changing along with your changing hormones. Namely, a drop in the hormone estrogen can thin the mucosal lining in your vagina.

After ruling out other causes, "we can treat this with a vaginal estrogen cream or tablet," noted Dr. Schantz-Dunn.

A Quick Review

If you experience severe vaginal itching, talk to a healthcare provider to figure out what's happening. Here are some additional reasons to call a professional right away:

  • You experience additional symptoms such as vaginal discharge, fever, redness and swelling around your genitals, and/or pain in your pelvis or belly area.
  • You think you may have been exposed to an STI.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms last longer than a week.
  • You've changed medications recently and think they may be related to the itching.

Make sure to listen to your body and talk to a healthcare provider if you're worried about your symptoms. While the itching can be due to many causes, including natural and treatable changes, it's worth asking a professional before trying to treat the issue on your own.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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