Every woman at some point in their life has felt the itch. We're not talking about the itch to travel or to change jobs either. We're talking about the kind of itch you might feel a little squeamish to chat about — vaginal itching.
An itchy vagina or vulva can be super irritating (no pun intended), so what exactly is going on down there and how do you treat it?
What if there's no discharge just itchy? Read on for the full breakdown on fixing your below-the-belt intense vaginal itching and keeping your vaginal health in check.
What does vaginal itching or burning look (and feel) like?
Vaginal itching or having a burning sensation can be pretty uncomfortable. It's also super common. If you are experiencing vaginal itching (sometimes known as vulval irritation) you might get the feeling of crawling under the skin or there may be some discomfort or even discharge .
Other signs to watch out for when you feel itchy could be redness or swelling, noticeably split or cracked skin, whitening of the skin or a feeling or something crawling under the skin. You might even feel a burning or painful sensation during sex.
What are the causes of vaginal itching?
The thin skin surrounding your groin area including your vulva and inside your vagina is pretty sensitive, meaning that there can be a number of different causes for your vaginal itch.
If you have particularly sensitive skin, you could find your itching is caused by perfumed products like laundry detergent or soap, or even from razor burn after shaving hair.
If you spot any itchy bumps on your skin around your pubic area, try to first think if you've changed any products that have come into contact with your skin. Have you used shaving cream to help soften the pubic area before shaving? Did you pick up one of those feminine hygiene sprays to try out?
Once you've eliminated any changes to products on your sensitive skin, it's time to think about what else might be causing your itch. Let's talk about a few of the main causes of an itchy genital area.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
One of the causes of severe itching is a urinary tract infection. This common infection can lead to a kidney infection if not treated in time .
They are typically caused by bacteria entering the body through the urethra. Although anyone can get a UTI, it's much more common in women, with 1 in 3 having a UTI before the age of 24.
Some of the early warning signs of a UTI are feeling an urgent need to pee, a stinging or burning sensation when you pee, and urine that is smelly or cloudy looking. If you notice an unpleasant odour or other symptoms it's best to see a doctor for treatment.
Often a course of antibiotics will be required. You can also help improve the stinging or itching feeling with a DIY alkalising drink by mixing a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into a glass of water.
Eczema or psoriasis
There are a number of different types of eczema that might be itching up your genital region. Some of those include atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis as well as irritant or contact dermatitis .
Female genital eczema or psoriasis that is around the vaginal opening can be extremely uncomfortable, but it's important to see a doctor to be correctly diagnosed.
Your skin will feel inflamed, red or itchy but your doctor will need to rule out fungal and yeast infections like thrush and sexually transmitted diseases to know the right treatment.
Be wary of using over-the-counter creams to self-treat as this can often cause further irritation. Eczema or psoriasis can be a chronic skin condition caused by excessive sweating and tight clothing and can be made worse by your external vaginal itching. Your doctor can prescribe an anti-itch cream to help soothe your symptoms.
Vaginal itch after sex
Some women, particularly those facing hormonal imbalance or changes such as menopause, might be suffering from vaginal dryness.
Using vaginal lubricants can help with dryness, but if you're left with an itch you might be allergic to your lube. Try using one specifically for sensitive skin or try a natural oil like almond or olive.
Pronounced 'like-en plain-us', this inflammatory condition can cause painful sores and a serious itchy vulva . Lichen planus is typically a lifelong condition and is not a sexually transmitted infection STI or contagious.
The symptoms of vulvar lichen planus include red-brown patches on the inner vulva, pain and burning in the vulva and vaginal itching. There may be a patchy white rash on the vulva where the skin thin has worn down leaving blisters .
In severe cases, it can cause permanent scarring and possibly lead to vulvar cancer. It can be mistaken for lichen sclerosis or other skin conditions, so it's important to see a doctor, gynaecologist or dermatologist for the right advice.
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that on the vulva can cause irritation, vaginal itching or a burning sensation . It occurs when the delicate vulvar skin becomes sensitive to certain products on contact, causing redness, swelling, or a raw feeling in the vulva.
You might also experience some pain using tampons or during sexual intercourse. The main triggers for contact dermatitis are things like laundry detergent, soaps, lotions, bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, baby wipes, nylon underwear or even certain lubricants. Once you remove the cause behind your irritation, the vaginal itching should settle down.
Another cause of your intense itching could be pubic lice. Those teeny tiny crabs are insects that live in coarse body hair and can cause loads of external vaginal itching .
They spread through sexual contact, but you can also catch pubic lice from using bath towels, sheets or bedding that an infected person has slept on (think partners and hotel rooms). Pubic lice can be tricky to get rid of, and they can't be removed by shaving hair or washing away.
Fortunately, this can be easily treated with medications or creams. Pay a visit to your doctor who will be able to recommend the best course of treatment.
STDs that cause itching but no discharge
One of the first places our mind goes with vulvar itching is to a sexually transmitted infection.
Although a sexually transmitted infection is usually easily spotted with unusual discharge, it is possible to have an itch without discharge. Many people with genital herpes simplex virus may not have any symptoms or have symptoms so mild they don't seek medical treatment .
More severe cases may have bleeding sores and pain around the vagina and cervix. Other cases may have an itchy vagina without discharge. Genital herpes does not have a cure but can be managed with antiviral medication to help minimise the risk of transmission and reduce any external vaginal itching.
If you notice some small flesh-coloured bumps appearing on your pubic area that don't ooze like bleeding sores, you might have genital warts, an infection of the human papillomavirus infection. HPV can lead to cervical cancer and vulvar cancer and it's worth seeking treatment from a medical professional to ensure the right course
What if I have itching and discharge?
If you are experiencing intense vaginal itching and abnormal discharge, there might be an infection going on.
Vaginal thrush is a common yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of the fungus candida. The telltale signs of thrush are redness, an itchy vagina, pain during sexual intercourse, pain during urination and a white vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese .
You can usually treat a yeast infection with over-the-counter creams or tablets from your pharmacist. If you continue to keep getting thrush or your treatment isn't working, it's best to seek medical advice.
Another culprit behind your itchy vagina could be bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you notice a vaginal discharge that is a grey colour with a strong fish smell as well as vaginal itching you might have bacterial vaginosis .
Typically, bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of 'bad' anaerobic bacteria and is typically treated with an antibiotic cream or gel.
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How can I prevent vaginal itching?
Preventing external vaginal itching comes down to practising good vaginal hygiene. Some of these tips include:
- Get familiar with your vagina! Do you know your labia majora from your minora? Could you tell if something isn't quite right? You can start your reading at the Labia Library.
- Showering/bathing daily and only washing your genital area with water or a hypoallergenic.
- Change your underwear daily, and regularly change panty liners and pads.
- Ensure you have clean hands prior to inserting tampons or menstrual cups.
- Avoid potential irritants like feminine hygiene sprays, douches or creams.
- Monitor your use of other possible irritants like lotions, fabric softener, laundry detergent and shower gels. Discontinue use if you notice irritation.
- Avoid wearing extremely tight and synthetic clothing for long periods. This includes stockings, G-strings and leggings.
Follow these tips and you'll be free from all that external itching in no time.
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