Most women experience vaginal irritation at some time in their lives. It usually results in an uncomfortable itching or burning sensation and it can occur for several reasons. Most itching isn’t a serious cause for concern but it can be a sign of infection. If you are extremely uncomfortable or you’re experiencing additional symptoms, you should see your doctor. Through examination and testing, they will be able to identify the cause of your discomfort and recommend the necessary treatment.
Causes of Vaginal Irritation
Vaginal itching and burning can be due to infections, irritating chemicals or menopause. Vaginal irritation can also be caused by sexually transmitted diseases, skin disorders, stress or vulvar cancer. Let’s look at these in more detail.
There are many chemical irritants which can cause vaginal irritation and itching since they trigger an allergic reaction. Common irritants include:
- Scented toilet paper
- Bubble baths
- Feminine sprays
- Fabric softeners
- Creams and ointments
- Urine (in women with diabetes or urinary incontinence)
2. Skin Diseases
Some skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema can affect the genital region. Eczema tends to occur most often in people with allergies or asthma and it results in a reddish rash with a scaly texture. Psoriasis can result in red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin. Both diseases can show up in the area of the vagina of some women.
3. Yeast Infection
It is normal for yeast to be present in the vagina and it doesn’t usually present problems. However, when an overgrowth occurs and the yeast is out of balance with the good bacteria in the vagina, it can cause an infection. Symptoms include itching, burning, and a white cottage cheese-like discharge. Seventy-five percent of women experience such an infection at least once in their lifetime. It is often caused by the use of antibiotics.
4. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is also triggered by an imbalance between good and bad bacteria. While it isn’t always symptomatic, it can cause vaginal itching and a foul-smelling discharge which may be thin and gray or white.
5.Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Several STDs can cause itching and irritation around the vagina. They include:
- Genital warts
- Genital herpes
These diseases can also cause a green or yellow discharge, pain while urinating or abnormal growths on the genitals.
Women who are menopausal or post-menopausal at a greater risk for irritation. This is due to the reduction of estrogen levels in their bodies which leads to vaginal atrophy – a thinning and drying of the vaginal walls. The dryness often leads to itching and irritation unless you seek treatment.
This isn’t as common as the reasons listed above but physical and emotional stress can result in vaginal itching and irritation. This may happen because stress weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to infections which can cause itching.
8. Vulvar Cancer
Even more rarely, irritation can be a symptom of vulvar cancer. The cancer can develop along the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the opening or the clitoris. Vulvar cancer doesn’t always present symptoms but can include itching, pain, and abnormal bleeding. The disease can be successfully treated if it is diagnosed early.
When to See Your Doctor About Vaginal Itching
Now you know what may be causing your discomfort, you may be wondering when you need to make an appointment with the gynecologist. If the itching is affecting your ability to sleep or live your life normally, you need to see your doctor for treatment. You should also seek medical advice If the itching persists for more than a week or it occurs along with:
- Pain or tenderness in the vaginal area
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Trouble urinating
- Redness or swelling
- Blisters or ulcers on the vulva
What to Expect When You Go to the Doctor
Before prescribing you a treatment, your doctor will ask for details about your symptoms. They may also ask about your sexual activities. The next step will likely be a pelvic exam during which they will look at the vulva and the inside of the vagina. The doctor may check your reproductive organs for abnormalities and collect a sample of skin tissue or discharge. They may also test your urine or blood. The exam and tests will allow them to identify the cause of your irritation.
Medical Treatments for Vaginal Itching and Burning
Once your doctor discovers what is wrong, they’ll recommend the necessary treatment.
Causes and Corresponding Treatments
The specific type of treatment you will need can vary from topical antifungal creams to oral antibiotics. Let’s look at some of the most common causes of vaginal discomfort and the likely treatments.
Vaginal Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are usually treated with antifungal medications in cream, ointment or pill form. Some of these drugs are available over the counter while others require a prescription. If you’ve never been diagnosed with a yeast infection, you shouldn’t buy over-the-counter medications without speaking to your doctor.
Bacterial vaginosis is often treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will likely prescribe a pill to be a taken orally or a cream to insert into the vagina. You must finish the full course of treatment regardless of which type of antibiotic you get.
Depending on the type of STD you have, the doctor may recommend antibiotics, anti-parasitics or antivirals. You’ll need to make sure you follow your doctor’s advice carefully and refrain from sexual intercourse until your infection clears up.
If your itching is due to menopause, your doctor may suggest estrogen tablets, cream or a vaginal ring insert.
If something else is causing your irritation, it may very well clear up on its own. Applying steroid lotions or creams sparingly can help to ease the discomfort. Overusing these products can make your condition worse.
Home Remedies You Can Try to Prevent Discomfort
You may be able to prevent many causes of vaginal itching by improving your hygiene and making some lifestyle changes. For example, you can:
- Use only gentle cleansers to wash your genital area
- Avoid scented soaps and bubble baths
- Avoid douches and vaginal sprays.
- Take off wet clothing immediately after exercising or swimming
- Wear cotton underwear and change it regularly
- Eat yogurt with live cultures
- Use condoms during sexual intercourse to prevent STDs
- Wipe from front to back after you have a bowel movement
- Use vaginal moisturizers if you’re experiencing dryness
Vaginal itching, burning and irritation are common but they can be very uncomfortable to deal with. Luckily, most irritation isn’t serious and medical treatment can be very effective once the cause of your discomfort has been identified. In some cases, you condition will even get better on its own. However, if it lasts for more than a week, returns after treatment or causes you severe discomfort, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. if you have a more serious condition like an STD or vulvar cancer, the sooner you get treatment, the better it will be for you.