Vaginal itching is a common and uncomfortable occurrence for many women. Vaginal itching can occur inside the vagina or outside the vagina on the vulva, including the lips, clitoris, and bladder and vaginal openings. In some cases, vaginal itch may go away on its own. Otherwise, it’s important to speak to a medical professional to determine the cause and correct course of treatment for your vaginal itching.
In this article, I’ll describe the symptoms of vaginal itching and the different potential causes. I’ll also cover the most common medical treatments as well as some home remedies used in the prevention and treatment of vaginal itching. Finally, I’ll describe when it’s important to contact your healthcare provider to determine which treatment course may be right for you.
The primary symptom of vaginal itching is described in the name of the condition: a constant, extreme, or bothersome itch in the vulva or vagina.
Additional symptoms can present depending on the cause of your vaginal itching. In some cases, you may also experience:
- A burning sensation in the vulva or vagina
- Vaginal discharge
- Small cracks on the skin of the vulva
- Redness or swelling
- Blisters on the vulva
- Scaly, thick, whitish patches on the vulva
- Pain during intercourse
- Painful urination
- Light vaginal bleeding or spotting
Potential Causes of Vaginal Itching
There are many potential causes of vaginal itching, ranging from less serious (such as the laundry detergent you use) to more serious. One of the most common causes is a yeast infection.
A yeast infection occurs when something disturbs the balance of naturally occuring yeast and bacteria in the vagina. This leads to an overgrowth of yeast (most often the fungus candida albicans) and the resulting infection.
In addition to vaginal itching, the most common symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Vulvar and vaginal Irritation
- Burning sensations (particularly during urination and sex)
- A red, swollen vulva
- Pain and soreness in the vaginal area
- Vaginal rash
- Thick, white, odorless discharge with a cottage cheese-like appearance or watery discharge
Medication is usually an effective treatment for yeast infection. If you think you might have a yeast infection, talk with your healthcare provider to determine which over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication is best for you.
Reasons Vaginal Itching Happens If You Don’t Have a Yeast Infection
Not all cases of vaginal itch are caused by yeast infections. Below are some other possible causes to consider.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common cause of vaginal itching triggered by a change or imbalance of the normal bacteria found in the vagina. Though not considered a sexually transmitted infection, BV most commonly occurs in sexually active women.
Sexual activity can cause or increase your risk of vaginal itching. In particular, having multiple partners or a new sex partner can expose your vulva and vagina to new microorganisms that can interrupt the bacterial or pH balance and cause vaginal itching. Some lubricants, condoms and spermicides used during sex can also cause vaginal itching.
The vagina is delicate and easily irritated. Some chemicals can trigger an allergic reaction, causing an itchy rash when exposed to the vagina. Common chemical irritants are:
- Soap or bubble baths
- Detergents and fabric softeners
- Feminine sprays
- Topical contraceptives
- Creams and ointments
- Scented toilet paper
- Forgotten tampons
Some skin diseases, including eczema (dermatitis) and psoriasis, can cause redness and itching in the vagina or vulva. If you have red or scaly rashes or patches that accompany your itchiness, talk to your doctor to determine if one of these skin conditions may be the cause.
STIs and STDs
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause vaginal itching. In some cases, additional symptoms may be present.
STIs and STDs that can cause vaginal itching include:
- Genital warts
- Genital herpes
Additional symptoms that you may experience are:
- Abnormal growths
- Green or yellow vaginal discharge
- Pain during urination
If you think you may have an STI or STD, reach out to your doctor or sexual health provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Hormonal changes can cause vaginal itching. Most commonly, reduced estrogen levels after menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries can cause the vaginal lining to become thin, leading to irritation, itching, burning, and vaginal dryness. In some cases, women also experience pain during sexual intercourse. Gender-affirming therapies can also cause vaginal dryness and itching.
Stress can weaken the immune system and can change the natural bacteria balance and moisture level of the vagina. These changes may lead to vaginal infections and itching.
Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are small insects that can cause extreme vaginal itching when found in the genital area. Though most commonly transmitted through sexual activity, they can also be spread through infested sheets, clothing, blankets, or towels.
Your healthcare provider can confirm a diagnosis of pubic lice with a thorough examination of your genital area. If OTC lotions and shampoos don’t work to kill them, your doctor may prescribe stronger oral or topical treatments.
In rare cases, vaginal itching may be a symptom of vulvar cancer. More common symptoms of vulvar cancer include:
- Persistent itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva
- Changes in the color of the skin of your vulva
- Rashes or warts on your vulva
- Pain, especially during sex or urination
- Persistent sores, lumps, or ulcers on your vulva
If you experience any of the above symptoms, speak with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Treatment options vary based on the exact cause of your vaginal itching. In some cases, working with your doctor, gynecologist, or other medical professional is the best way to find the right treatment approach.
Many causes of vaginal itching can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medication, depending on the cause. STIs, BV, public lice, skin conditions, and yeast infections can all be treated with medication after correct diagnosis.
Additionally, over-the-counter boric acid suppositories can help maintain a normal vaginal pH and may help treat yeast infections and you may want to consider taking a probiotic. Specific treatment options
- For yeast infections: If this is your first yeast infection, it’s best to speak with a medical professional. They may prescribe an antifungal such as fluconazole (Diflucan). OTC antifungal medications such as miconazole (Monistat) may help with milder infections.
- For bacterial vaginosis: Antibiotic or anti-parasite medications such as metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-Vaginal), clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse), or tinidazole (Tindamax).
- For STIs: Antibiotic or antiviral medications depending on the specific infection.
- For skin disease: Your provider will work with you to find the right medication to treat the condition.
- For menopause: Your doctor may recommend hormone therapy (HT), estrogen creams, tablets, or a vaginal ring insert.
- For other cases: Vaginal itching may resolve on its own or once the chemical irritant or stressor is removed or managed.
Several home remedies may help prevent and treat vaginal itching. Some of the most effective preventive methods are:
- Avoiding scented lotions, soaps, sprays, and douches on your genital area
- Changing out of wet clothing right after swimming or exercising
- Wearing cotton underwear or underwear with a breathable, cotton lining
- Taking probiotics or eating foods with live cultures to reduce the risk of yeast infection
- Using condoms during sexual intercourse
- Wiping front to back after bowel movements
When to See a Doctor
If you experience persistent itching that doesn’t resolve on its own, or if you have additional symptoms, talk to your doctor to determine the cause and correct course of treatment for your vaginal itching.
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Bacterial Vaginosis. (2019). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279
Public Lice (Crabs). (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pubic-lice-crabs/symptoms-causes/syc-20350300
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/vagvulv/basic_info/symptoms.htm
Vaginitis. (2019). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vaginitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354707
Vulvitis. (2018). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15175-vulvitis
Yeast Infection (Vaginal). (2021). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999