This article was medically reviewed by Angela Chaudhari, MD, a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board, on March 29, 2019.
Most women have dealt with vaginal itching at some point in their lives-and it can be a huge discomfort whenever you experience it. What makes things worse is that you don’t know why it’s happening. Vaginal itching has a diverse range of causes, from something as manageable as switching out your body wash, to something more pressing, like a sexually transmitted infection.
That’s why even if you think you might know your cause of vaginal itching, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor so you can treat it accordingly, says Jill Krapf, MD, assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas San Antonio School of Medicine.
The good news is that a healthy vagina shouldn’t be itchy too often. “The vagina is a self-cleaning oven,” says Audra Williams, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham School of Medicine. “It really takes care of itself. It’s got natural bacteria that keep a balance in the vagina, and so when that balance is disrupted, it can tip toward being more itchy or having more discharge.”
So why is my vagina itchy?
Here are five of the most common reasons you might be experiencing an itchy vagina, and what to do about it.
You have a yeast infection
One of the most common problems women typically jump to when they have vaginal itching is a yeast infection, says Dr. Williams. And for a lot of those women, they’d be right. After all, the majority of women- about 75 percent-will experience at least one yeast infection during their lifetime.
A yeast infection is exactly what it sounds like: there’s a yeast growing in your vagina where it shouldn’t be, which can cause a lot of discomfort. “It’s a living organism that causes the infection,” says Dr. Williams. “This causes an inflammation of the vaginal tissue, which is what causes all the symptoms.” Aside from itching, other yeast infection symptoms include having a thick, white, curd-like discharge and experiencing a burning sensation when you pee.
Vaginal itch fix:
Luckily, there are plenty of over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections, like Monistat, that can be taken as a vaginal cream or suppository. The key here is paying attention to whether the treatment is actually working. “If symptoms do not resolve after initial treatment, it is important to see a doctor,” says Dr. Krapf.
You have bacterial vaginosis
This sounds a lot scarier than it is, because bacterial vaginosis isn’t truly an infection, says Dr. Williams. “It happens when the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina gets thrown off, so there’s an overgrowth of a certain type of bacteria that causes all the symptoms that a woman may have,” she says.
In addition to itching, bacterial vaginosis often presents other classic symptoms like a thin, watery discharge with a fishy odor. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor right away so he or she can prescribe an antibiotic prescription that will help restore that healthy balance in your vagina.
Vaginal itch fix:
A great way to prevent bacterial vaginosis down the road starts with your diet. “Some women find that taking probiotics or having yogurts with increased cultures can be helpful in maintaining their vaginal health,” says Williams.
You switched soaps or bought new undies
If you’re having some itching, but you’re not experiencing any of those discharge-related symptoms associated with something like a yeast infection or a bacterial vaginosis, it might be worth asking: What have I changed in my hygiene or clothing routine lately?
Product changes can cause a condition called contact dermatitis, where your skin reacts to an allergen or irritant it doesn’t agree with, like a new soap, lotion, dye, detergent, or even a sanitary pad. “Some women are just more sensitive to scented or dyed products and will actually have an allergic reaction,” says Dr. Williams. “Other times, they’re not necessarily allergic to a specific thing, but it can cause a certain amount of irritation.” So rather than it being an infection or imbalance in your vaginal bacteria, your itching could be caused solely by exposure to something it doesn’t like.
Vaginal itch fix:
If you’re able to pinpoint a new change in your routine that could be causing the itching, stop using it right away and see if the problem clears up. But if you can’t think of any changes, just make sure you’re avoiding any scented products or synthetic fabrics. “Just using plain, unscented Dove soap is a good go-to you can use to try to avoid any dyes or other scented products,” says Dr. Williams. “If you’re wearing underwear when you sleep, make sure they’re 100 percent cotton. That allows more breathability to the vagina. I always tell patients try not to sleep in underwear.”
Another major no-no? Douching, says Dr. Williams. Same goes for latex condoms or lubricants if you’re experiencing a reaction to those during intercourse, says Dr. Knapf. Instead, try non-latex condoms or condoms that don’t contain lubricants or spermicides in them. If you’ve tried all of this and you’re still experiencing itching, it’s time to get to the doctor to see what else might be going on.
You’re going through menopause
If you’re approaching or are at the age where menopause is coming into play-the average age is 51, according to the North American Menopause Society-and you’re having some vaginal itching, it could be a symptom of those hormonal changes that occur during and after menopause.
After menopause, the hormonal changes you experience can cause vaginal dryness and thinning of the skin, which is called vaginal atrophy, says Dr. Krapf. And although you can’t reverse these menopausal changes, there are some remedies you can use to get rid of some of that vaginal itching and discomfort associated with them.
Vaginal itch fix:
To help with the vaginal atrophy, you can try an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer, which comes in both cream and suppository forms. Or, if you’re just experiencing the dryness or itching during or after sex, you can use coconut oil or another natural lubricant during sex to help curb some of those symptoms, says Dr. Krapf. (Here are some other ways sex after 50 can change.)
You might have a sexually transmitted infection
Although less likely than the other causes to create itching, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are still something your gynecologist is thinking about when you come in with vaginal itching, says Williams.
One STI in particular that he or she might consider is trichomoniasis. “Trich” is caused by a parasite called Trichomoniasis vaginalis and is extremely commonly, with an estimated 3.7 million people in the U.S. carrying the infection, according to the CDC. “Trichomoniasis tends to cause a heavier discharge and more vaginal symptoms,” says Dr. Williams. While no one wants any STI, treatment of trich consists of oral medication and should go away fairly quickly once you start taking meds (though you can get reinfected).
Vaginal itch fix:
Other STIs can cause itching, including chlamydia, genital herpes, and genital warts, says Dr. Krapf. If you think you might have an STI it’s important to get to your doctor for testing to see what exactly is going on down there and how to treat it most effectively. And of course, make sure your partner always wears a condom to protect against any STIs.
When in doubt, get checked out
It’s important to note that if your symptoms don’t improve with treatment, be sure to see your doctor again. Persistent vaginal itching that doesn’t improve could be a sign of vulvar cancer. While this form of cancer is rare, vaginal itching is a common symptom.
The most important thing to remember, regardless of what’s causing your vaginal itching, is that there are solutions no matter what the root of the cause is. “It’s important for women to know that they don’t have to sit there and struggle,” says Dr. Williams. “[Doctors] are there to help.”
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