November 14, 2019

Help! My Vagina/Vulva Itches! Here's What's Going On

Vaginal itching can be uncomfortable, but before you call your doc, here are some things you should read up on.
Written by
Dr. Sarah Toler
Published on
November 14, 2019
Updated on
What's changed?
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It’s an itch so intense, it can wake you from your sleep. You might even cancel plans or skip work. Vaginal itching is real, uncomfortable, and can sometimes be a bit embarrassing. The good news is, in most cases it’s very treatable.

An itchy vagina can be so uncomfortable that you feel like you should call an ambulance. Don’t panic! It’s not an emergency. In most cases, vaginal itching can be treated. It’s best to see a healthcare provider quickly before the issue worsens. The most common cause of itching is a yeast infection, but it could also be the result of something requiring a different type of treatment. 

Where exactly does it itch? Your vagina or vulva?

Many people refer to all of their genitalia as their vagina, but the vagina is only the canal leading from the external genitals to the cervix. Vaginal itching is intensely uncomfortable because the itch is impossible to scratch.

Itching on the outside of the genitals, called the vulva, is vulvar itching. The outer folds of skin on the vulva are called the labia majora. The inner folds are the labia minora. It’s possible to have itching on one or both parts of your vulva, as well as your clitoris.

The number one cause of vaginal itching 

The most common cause of vaginal itching is vulvovaginal candidiasis, otherwise known as a yeast infection. A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast naturally found in the vaginal area. It can be caused by using lubricants, spermicides or taking antibiotics. It can also be caused by health conditions like diabetes. 

According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, three-fourths of all people with vaginas have a yeast infection at least once, and half of these people have more than one yeast infection in their lifetime. Five percent of people with vaginas will go on to have recurrent yeast infections, which is considered four or more in one year. 

Yeast infections cause itching as well as other symptoms. Most people are bothered by the itching first and then go on to have burning, soreness, abnormal discharge, and swelling. It can also cause vaginal odor. Itching can be felt in the vagina, vulva, or both. 

Over-the-counter creams and inserts can be purchased at pharmacies and generally work well. If your yeast infection isn’t responsive to over-the-counter treatment or is especially itchy or painful, a healthcare provider can prescribe an oral treatment

Other causes of vaginal itching

An itchy vagina and vulva can be caused by some other, less common conditions. 

Vaginal itching from contact dermatitis 

If you’re unsure what’s causing the itching, ask yourself if you’ve made any changes that may have irritated your skin. Soaps, perfumes or residue on fabrics and other substances can cause dermatitis and make the skin itch, burn, and feel raw. If you’re having sex with a partner, soap or detergent can transfer from their hands, mouth or genitals to your vulva and vagina. After you identify the cause of the itching, remove it from your vaginal area to prevent it from worsening. 

Vaginal itching from Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen Sclerosus is a rare condition that’s very painful. Research suggests it’s caused either by autoimmune or genetic factors. The pain and itching can interfere with living your daily life. Most people with lichen sclerosus are unable to withstand vaginal sex until it’s treated. The skin appears white and wrinkled, similar to lichen you might see on a tree trunk. Treatment usually involves an external steroid cream. 

Vaginal itching from STIs

STIs like genital warts and genital herpes can cause itching and tingling sensations in the vagina and vulva. Sometimes, there are physical signs of an STI, like bumps on the skin of the vulva. Sometimes, though, pain and itching can be the only symptoms. A healthcare provider can give you a full STI screening and follow up with any medications needed to treat an infection.

Vaginal itching from menopause 

Estrogen decreases around the time of menopause. This decrease causes a lack of lubrication in the vagina and vulvar area that can lead to itching. Menopausal vaginal itching can usually be treated with an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or moisturizer. 

Fixing Your Itchy Vagina

Itching of the vagina is common. Ask a friend! About one in three people with vaginas have experienced it. It can happen at any point but are most common during the reproductive years. Using antibiotics, changes in hormone levels (during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause), having sex, douching and even STIs can cause vaginal itching. Since there are so many causes of vaginal itching, the best way to find out what’s going on is to visit your healthcare provider and have a professional figure it out.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Dr. Toler specializes in reproductive mental health and focuses on the intersections where reproductive rights, mental health, healthcare access and equality meet. Through creating evidence-based health content, she hopes to improve access to reproductive health information for all people. She is a perinatal mental health advocate and currently contributes to several perinatal mental health action groups including Maternal Mental Health NOW and Postpartum Support International.

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