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Vaginal itching is a common problem that affects all women at one time or another

Vaginal itching is a common problem that affects all women at one time or another. This is because it is a sign of several conditions, from hormonal changes during periods, pregnancy and menopause to a yeast infection. In some cases, it may even be an early sign of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like trichomoniasis (caused by a protozoan known as Trichomonas vaginalis).
Vaginal itching is a common problem that affects all women at one time or another

Usually, vaginal itching resolves on its own. In the case of a mild bacterial or fungal infection, over-the-counter medicines like hydrocortisone ointments can help soothe the itch. Home remedies such as aloe vera gel can also help in some cases.
Sometimes, though, vaginal itching is accompanied by other symptoms such as vaginal pain, blisters or bumps on the genitals, or a burning sensation while urinating. These may point to more serious conditions that may require medical intervention.
Treatment of vaginal itching, of course, depends on the cause. To find the underlying cause, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, do a pelvic exam and may even recommend further tests to rule out STDs and other problems.

Marked by persistent irritation of the vaginal opening and/or the skin around it, an itchy vagina may itself be a symptom of other conditions. Depending on the cause, vaginal itching may be accompanied by a number of other symptoms:
  • Redness and swelling
  • Vaginal discharge that may be white or greenish
  • Burning sensation while urinating or painful urination
  • Vaginal pain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal burning

Vaginal itching is very common. Often, it resolves on its own in a few days if you take the irritant or cause away. There may be a number of underlying causes for vaginal itching:
  • Yeast infection: This is one of the most common reasons for vaginal itching across the world. The vagina is home to many bacteria and fungi. Normally, they coexist in a healthy balance. However, in some circumstances—say, you take antibiotics or you are pregnant or you are on hormone therapy that increases the amount of estrogen in your body—the fungus and bad bacteria can outnumber the good bacteria (lactobacilli). This can result in a yeast infection. Apart from itching, the main signs of a vaginal yeast infection are a burning sensation while urinating, swelling in the vulva (protective outer layer of the vagina) and white vaginal discharge that looks like cheese.

  • Contact dermatitis: If you see a red, itchy rash on your vagina or crotch, then you may have contact dermatitis. A skin irritant or something you may be allergic to can cause contact dermatitis. The itching tends to resolve on its own soon after you take away the thing that is irritating your skin or causing the allergy. The causes of contact dermatitis-linked itching in the vagina include:

    • Having an allergic reaction to a new vaginal lubricant or latex condom
    • Skin irritation caused by a new soap, sanitary napkin, or even a new laundry detergent you may be using for your delicates.
    • Wearing tight underwear.
    • Activities like long-distance cycling can also irritate the skin in the entire groin area. If you take these up regularly, it may be a good idea to get a good pair of padded biker shorts and special seats to avoid rubbing.

  • Bacterial vaginosis: Different species of bacteria live on the vagina without causing harm. This is because the good bacteria normally outnumber the bad. Bacterial vaginosis is an infection that occurs when this balance shifts and the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria in the vagina

  • In addition to vaginal itching, vaginosis is also marked by a smelly white vaginal discharge and a burning sensation while urinating. Unprotected sex, having a new sex partner, vaginal douching and vaginal steaming can increase your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis.

  • Vulvovaginitis: If any of the female reproductive organs you can see on the outside of the body (external) are inflamed, this condition is known as vulvovaginitis. The causes are usually some kind of infection: bacterial, fungal or sexually transmitted. Usually taking care of the infection will also take care of the swelling and the resulting itchiness.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts and genital herpes are some STDs that can result in vaginal itching, among other symptoms. If you are sexually active, you should get tested for these at regular intervals.

  • Hormonal changes: Changes in the level of sex hormones can cause vaginal itching. For example, dropping levels of estrogen hormone in the body during menopause can lead to vaginal atrophy which is marked by vaginal dryness and vaginal itching.
    Many women also experience more vaginal itching than usual during their period. This is because of a combination of factors: changing hormone levels, change in the pH balance of the vagina and contact with blood and tissue for some time are among them.

  • Skin problems: Lichen sclerosus, a condition in which the skin becomes thin and patchy, eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis can also affect the genital area and cause vaginal itching. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which the skin cells grow abnormally quickly.

  • Pubic lice: These are lice that crawl in those parts of the body that have thick or coarse hair growth, including the genitals.

  • Removing pubic hair: The vulva is quite sensitive. Waxing or shaving the pubic area can leave it red, sensitive and itchy. If you are waxing your pubic hair for the first time, make sure you’re not allergic to the wax. Applying aloe vera gel on the area can also help to soothe it. If the problem persists, see a doctor. 

  • Some conditions such as diabetes also make women more susceptible to vaginal itching. This is because the high blood sugar also leads to more glucose in the urine—this can make the environment conducive for the growth of microbes and for conditions like vaginal thrush (a fungal infection).

There are some preventive measures that all women should take:
  • Don’t douche or steam your vagina: Vaginal steaming and douching gained popularity a few years ago as a means to change or reduce the smell of your vagina and cleanse it. Both methods are untested and are strictly not recommended by doctors. The smell of your vagina comes from the good bacteria that live in it. Each woman has her own vagina smell, and you may be a lot healthier and happier if you get to know and accept your own—if you feel that there’s something off about the smell of your vagina, it is best to have a doctor check you for infections and other problems.

  • Avoid scented hygiene products: Scented sanitary napkins and tampons are marketed as a way to deal with period smells. There are two things to remember here: one, period smell doesn’t normally reach others if you change your pad or tampon regularly. Second, scented products can irritate your skin and cause dermatitis which can make periods even more uncomfortable.

  • Say no to scented soaps and vaginal washes: Normally, the vagina is self-cleaning and you don’t need to apply soap or vaginal washes inside. You can use a mild soap and water to clean the outer part or the labia, though—make sure this soap, too, is unscented.

  • Get right-sized underwear: Wear underwear that fits you properly.

  • Practise safe sex: Use latex condoms (unless you are allergic to latex, in which case you can use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms for men or female condoms), and try to limit the number of sexual partners you have.

  • Practise proper hygiene before and after masturbation: Washing your hands and any sex toys before and after masturbation can help you avoid infections and skin irritants that may lead to itching later on.

  • Change out of wet clothes quickly: Staying in wet clothes can irritate the skin covering the vagina (labia), too. Try to change your clothes as soon as possible if you get drenched in the rain, or in sweat—this also applies to gym clothes, swimsuits, etc.

  • Avoid self-medicating: Never take antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.

  • Avoid triggers: If you have eczema or psoriasis, take extra care to avoid the things that lead to a flare-up.

  • Quit smoking: Research has linked smoking to fewer good bacteria in the vagina. This may increase the chances of infection and therefore itching.

Vaginal itching is very common. In most cases, the itching should go away on its own. Some over-the-counter medicines can also help relieve dryness and treat mild infections. However, you should visit a doctor if:
  • The itching persists beyond a few days
  • Your symptoms return a few days after you complete over-the-counter treatment
  • Sex becomes uncomfortable or painful for you
  • You develop bumps or blisters on the genital area
  • It hurts when you pee
  • Your vaginal discharge looks very different or smells quite bad or you get much more discharge than is normal for you
  • You have vaginal pain or soreness
  • You have spotting or light vaginal bleeding
To diagnose the cause of itching, the doctor will:
  • Ask you some questions about your symptoms.
  • He or she may also ask you if you have changed your hygiene products or detergent in the recent past.
  • If you are sexually active, your doctor may ask you about the safe sex practices you follow, the number of partners you’ve had and about the last time you were tested for an STD.
  • The doctor will then conduct a physical or pelvic exam.
  • After this, the doctor may advise some tests such as the chlamydia test to check for STDs. He or she may also collect a sample of your vaginal discharge for testing.
It may be a good idea to avoid having sex for at least 24 hours before you see a doctor.

The treatment can vary slightly, depending on the cause:
  • For vaginal yeast infection: Your doctor may recommend an antifungal cream containing miconazole or terconazole to be applied to the area. In some cases, a doctor may recommend oral medication containing fluconazole. For severe cases, the doctor may recommend a longer course of topical or oral medicines. In select cases, the doctor may use vaginal boric acid to get rid of specific fungal strains. While the antifungal creams can be bought over the counter, it is important to take a doctor’s recommendation for oral and intravaginal medicines. Maintaining good hygiene and diet is also crucial—try to avoid hot baths (especially in a bathtub) at this time.

  • For contact dermatitis: The most important thing is to identify and remove the thing that is irritating your skin: whether it is an allergen or overly tight underwear. Next, you can try home remedies like soaking in a tub of lukewarm water—you can add baking soda to the water. You could also apply hydrocortisone cream or aloe vera to the area to soothe the itching.
    Try to ignore the urge to scratch, as this can make the problem worse.

  • For skin problems and STDs: For conditions like psoriasis, eczema, lichen sclerosus and STDs, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate medicine. For pubic lice, a lotion with 1% permethrin may be prescribed—it is a good idea to wash your clothes and bed linens in hot water if you have public lice.
  • For menopause: Hormone replacement therapy can help to soothe menopause-linked vaginal itching, among other symptoms.

Vaginal itching can be very uncomfortable. And while scratching may make you feel better momentarily, it will make things worse later on. Here are some tried-and-tested tips you can rely on instead, for relief from vaginal itching:
  • Baking soda: Baking soda is said to relieve itching associated with eczema and psoriasis. It is also said to have antifungal properties, which can relieve itching in the case of a yeast infection.
    You can add a quarter cup of baking soda to your bathwater. Alternatively, you can make a coarse paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the itchy area. Wait a few minutes for the paste to dry and clean it with plain water.

  • Aloe vera gel: Aloe vera is said to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties that can soothe the itching—just be sure to apply it to the outer surfaces (mainly the vulva) only, and not inside.

  • Cotton underwear: Use cotton underwear that fits you well. Cotton allows your skin to breathe and wicks away any sweat; therefore, it helps to make you more comfortable.