There are few things more uncomfortable than vaginal itching. Between the itch and irritation, many women also feel some embarrassment. It’s not always easy to talk to someone about vaginal itching but rest assured that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and finding the cause of your itching IS very important. That’s what our providers are here for and qualified to help you with.
In most cases, vaginal itching isn’t serious and is likely from a treatable infection or even a reaction to a product. In rare cases though, vaginal itching is a sign of vulvar cancer, so seeing someone as soon as possible is important—even if just to get some relief from that itching! So if you’re wondering, “why am I itchy down there?”, we’re going to take a deep dive into some different things that might be causing it.
Causes of Vaginal Itching
Any chemical that your vagina is exposed to has the potential to cause irritation and itching. The most common culprits are soaps and bath products like body wash and bubble baths. Other feminine hygiene products, such as douches, feminine sprays, and lubricants, can also cause vaginal itching. Then there are the things that you may never suspect, like your laundry detergent or fabric softeners. Topical contraceptives like foam and condoms can also cause vaginal itching and irritation in some women. If you are prone to irritation from products like these, it is recommended to use products without harsh chemicals and fragrances. It may help to look for products that have an explicit “sensitive skin” label.
Skin conditions, such as eczema, can affect the skin on any part of the body, including the genitals. Along with itching, skin disorders can also cause inflammation, flaky skin, and even blistered skin. A referral to a dermatologist can help determine the cause if other conditions, such as sexually transmitted infections that cause similar symptoms, are ruled out. Your primary care provider or gynecologist can help refer you to the right specialist.
This is one of the most common things that we come across when a woman complains of vaginal itching. Yeast is naturally present in all of us and its presence isn’t a bad thing. The problem begins when something causes an overgrowth of it, leading to infection (candidiasis). Some common causes of yeast infections are:
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics
- Impaired immune system
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Warm, humid weather
- Tight-fitting clothing
- Oral contraceptives or hormone therapy
Vaginal itching, a burning sensation, and discharge that has a “cottage cheese-like” appearance are common symptoms of yeast infections. You may also notice that your discharge has a strong yeast scent to it. There are some over-the-counter medications that can help treat a yeast infection, but this is not recommended if you haven’t officially been diagnosed with one. It is best to visit your healthcare provider if you are experiencing the symptoms listed above so they can diagnose and create the best treatment plan for you.
We all have useful bacteria in our bodies, including our vaginas. When you experience an overgrowth of one of them, it upsets the vagina’s natural balance of bacteria, leading to what is called bacterial vaginosis (BV). This is a fairly common cause of vaginal itching and inflammation in women in their reproductive years. Though we don’t yet know exactly what causes it, unprotected sex and frequent douching have been found to increase a woman’s risk of BV. Along with vaginal itching, BV also usually causes other symptoms, such as burning, inflammation, and a “fishy” smelling discharge that is thin and is greyish white in color.
This fairly common sexually transmitted infection is caused by Trichomoniasis vaginalis, which is a single-celled parasite. You get it by having unprotected sex with someone who is already infected. In men, the parasite infects the urinary tract and causes few to no symptoms, causing it to regularly go undiagnosed. Vaginal itching is just one of the symptoms of Trichomoniasis. Other symptoms can include discharge, strong vaginal odor, pain during sex, and painful urination.
Menopause / Low Estrogen Levels
You may think that menopause is still a long way away, but women can begin to experience symptoms of menopause as many as ten years before actually reaching full menopause—that’s as early as their late thirties for some women. This is referred to as perimenopause. Vaginal itching is a common symptom of low estrogen levels, which causes vaginal dryness. Over time, vaginal dryness leads to irritation and itching, and can even be painful. Low estrogen levels, though most often related to menopause, can also affect much younger women. Genetics, thyroid problems, and even excessive exercise can cause low estrogen levels in the body. Cancer treatment can also lower estrogen levels. Blood tests can determine whether or not your estrogen levels are low, but your provider may recommend other tests to rule out alternative causes of your discomfort.
Less Common Causes
As previously mentioned, vaginal itching can be a symptom of gynecologic cancer. Precancerous changes in the vulva, known as Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) or dysplasia, can be the cause of vaginal itching. Though not cancer, VIN can turn into cancer if not treated. Vulvar cancer can also cause vaginal itching. Other symptoms of VIN and vulvar cancer include burning and irritation, and skin changes on the vulvar area, such as changes in skin color or in texture. You could also experience sores or lesions as a result of vaginal or vulvar cancer. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your gynecologist so they can help you identify the cause. If it turns out to be precancer or cancer, your provider will put you on the right course of treatment.
When to Get Medical Help
Make an appointment if there isn’t an obvious cause for your vaginal itching or it is accompanied by other symptoms. Women who experience frequent yeast infections may opt to treat it themselves at home, but if the symptoms persist even after using an over-the-counter remedy, then a visit is in order to rule out other possible causes. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your vaginal itching, your best bet is to get a solid diagnosis from a medical professional.