Vaginal itching and irritation
Itching for relief
If you have vaginal itching and irritation, you are not alone. These symptoms happen to women of all ages. Many things can cause itching and irritation of the vulva and vagina. Hormonal changes, chemical sensitivity, and infections are all common culprits.
Maintaining general vaginal health may help prevent vaginal itching and irritation. Practicing good hygiene, eating a balanced diet, avoiding chemical irritants, and protecting yourself against sexually transmitted diseases can all reduce your chances of developing bothersome vaginal irritation.
While vaginal itching and irritation can be quite unpleasant, it is rarely the sign of a serious condition. And fortunately you can relieve most cases of vaginal discomfort with a variety of over-the-counter products and self-care remedies. If a bacterial infection is causing the irritation, antibiotics can clear up the problem.
Since the tissues of the vagina and vulva (the genital area into which the vagina opens) are so delicate, the region is very sensitive to irritants, such as hormonal changes, chemical sensitivity, and infection. Menopausal and postmenopausal women, whose vaginal and vulvar skin has thinned due to decreased levels of estrogen, often have vaginal itching and dryness. Chemical irritants such as those in laundry detergents and bath soap are another common cause. A variety of infections can also contribute to vaginal itching and irritation, as can a number of sexually transmitted diseases. Sex, too, can produce these symptoms.
Since so many factors can cause vaginal itching and irritation, your doctor will consider your age, course of symptoms over time, aggravating factors, relieving factors, and possible laboratory test results in order to make a diagnosis. While vaginal itching and irritation can be uncomfortable, it rarely indicates a serious underlying problem. A variety of over-the-counter products and self-care remedies can help relieve symptoms of itchiness and irritation. If the discomfort is due to a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics, usually administered topically, to clear up the underlying problem. Furthermore, there are many preventative measures that you can take to maintain vaginal health and protect against many of the contributors to itching and irritation.
How Common is Vaginal Itching?
Vaginal itching, irritation, and vaginal discharge are the common symptoms among adolescent and adult women, regardless of age. The discharge of clear mucus at mid-cycle in reproductive age women (15-45 years) is a sign of normal reproductive health.
Goals of Treatment
The goals of treatment include alleviating discomfort and identifying and treating the underlying cause of the symptoms.
|Drugs most commonly prescribed|
The medications your doctor may recommend for you depend on the specific underlying condition.
|Vaginitis (vaginal yeast fungal infection):|
miconazole nitrate (Monistat)
|Atrophic vaginitis due to menopause|
|Trichomoniasis (protozoan infection):|
For trichomonal infections, it is important that both partners be treated. Uncircumcised men carry these and other organisms more than circumcised men. Using condoms may prevent vaginal infections. You should avoid metronidazole (Flagyl) therapy during at least the first trimester of pregnancy. If you think you might be pregnant, tell your physician.
|Bacterial vaginosis (anaerobic bacterial infection)|
You should avoid metronidazole (Flagyl) therapy during at least the first trimester of pregnancy. If you think you might be pregnant, tell your physician.
If you frequently suffer vaginal irritation due to vaginitis (vaginal yeast infections), eating yogurt with live acidophilus cultures may help. Acidophilus can help to maintain a healthy balance of vaginal yeast. Acidophilus is also available in capsule form. It is also recommended that you limit your intake of sweets and alcohol if you experience recurrent yeast infections.
L. acidophilus: a friendly bacteria found in live-culture yogurt that helps combat yeast. If you'd rather not eat yogurt, take L. acidophilus supplements, available in capsules.
- Echinacea: German researchers gave 203 women with recurrent yeast infections either an antifungal drug or the antifungal plus echinacea (one dropperful, three times a day). After six months, the group taking the herb reported significantly fewer infections.
- Goldenseal: contains berberine, the potent natural antibiotic that helps treat both fungal and bacterial infections. Most herbalists and naturopaths recommend one to two teaspoons of tincture three times a day.
- Garlic: another natural antibiotic. The most potent dose is a dozen raw, chopped cloves two or three times a day. If this is not possible or palatable for you, simply use more garlic when cooking, chopped or minced and as lightly cooked as possible.
Last updated 25 May 2012
- Vulvar itching
- Pruritus vulvae
Possible Underlying Causes
- Hormonal changes that accompany menopause
- A variety of vaginal infections, which disturb the normal hormone and pH balance of the vagina, such as:
- Vaginal yeast infection (vulvovaginal candidiasis)
- Thinning of vaginal tissue due to a drop in estrogen levels around menopause (atrophic vaginitis)
- Sexually transmitted diseases like trichomoniasis and gonorrhea
- Nonspecific vaginal infection (bacterial vaginosis), previously known as Gardnerella-associated vaginitis
- Heavily scented or colored products
- Chemical vulvitis irritation due to exposure to certain chemical ingredients in personal care products, such as:
- Bath soaps
- Bubble baths
- Laundry detergents
- Toilet paper
- Contraceptive gels or foams
- Vaginal deodorants (feminine sprays)
- Ointments or creams
- Tampons and menstrual pads
- Diabetes mellitus
Many other conditions may include vaginal or vulvar itching, including recurring herpes infection, genital warts (human papilloma virus or HPV), vulvar cancer, psoriasis, and lichen planus.
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will need information about several aspects of your personal history, including sexual activity and menstrual history. He or she will probably question you in detail about your symptoms and any aggravating or relieving factors you may have noticed. Your doctor may perform a physical exam to look for signs of infection, skin changes, and unusual discharge. If your doctor suspects an infectious agent, he or she will culture a sample of your vaginal discharge and examine it under the microscope. Your doctor may also perform blood and urine tests and do a Pap smear.
Self care & Prevention
Preventing Vaginal Yeast Infections
To help prevent future yeast infections, try the following:
- Avoid douching.
- Avoid synthetic products.
- Stick to wearing white cotton underwear.
- Eliminate yeast.
- Stay dry.
- Abstain from sex until you're back to normal. Then ask your doctor about using condoms for a while.
- Wipe from front to back (from vaginal area toward anus) after urination and bowel movements.
- Use a lubricant during sexual intercourse.
- Consider hormone replacement therapy or use a personal lubricant for dryness and irritation due to menopause.
- Use latex condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
- Urinate before and after sex. This helps wash bacteria out of the vaginal area.
- Avoid certain medicines.
- Eat live-culture yogurt.
When to Call the Doctor
Contact your health provider if your symptoms persist longer than a week, or if irritation is accompanied by skin changes, unusual discharge, bleeding, odor, or swelling, or if there is pain with intercourse.