An itchy vulva… It happens. It can happen out of nowhere, to any woman. It’s okay, it’s usually not very serious (but it can be – so pay attention!) Here’s what you ought to know about what causes an itchy vulva, what you can do to avoid this happening, when it can be a sign of something more serious, and what do to about it.
Why is My Vulva Itchy?
An itchy vulva is usually an uncomfortable (sometimes painful) symptom that points to a different issue. Some of these issues are easy to deal with on your own, other ones require more serious medical intervention so take a look at the following information, and act accordingly! Here’s a list of eight things that can cause an itchy vulva, but if none of these apply to you, it could be something else.
A yeast infection is a likely culprit when it comes to an itchy vulva. This type of fungal infection is caused by an abundance of yeast (Candida) in the vagina and results in symptoms like itchy vulva, irritation, swelling, and thick, “clumpy” white vaginal discharge.
Up to 75 percent of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, with many experiencing two or more episodes. Yeast infections are so, so common. They can range from a mild discomfort, to quite serious and uncomfortable.
Antibiotic usage, pregnancy, intercourse, weakened immune system, and douching can all cause a yeast infection. You shouldn’t use a douche, ever. They’re marketed and sold in stores, but they aren’t a good idea to use. If you’re healthy and all is well, you really shouldn’t ever need one. It’s natural to have some semblance of scent down there. It’s normal.
Luckily, most yeast infections can be treated at home using OTC fungal treatments. However, if this is your first vaginal infection it’s recommended to make an appointment with your doctor for an official diagnosis and treatment. After your first one, if you get another one down the road and it’s not severe, you should be able to take care of it at home – in fact it’s quite easy in a lot of cases!
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Like a yeast infection, Bacterial vaginosis is triggered by an imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria found naturally in the vagina. Unlike a yeast infection, however, BV doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. If you do notice symptoms, an itchy, burning vulva is a common complaint along with “fishy” vaginal odor, and watery discharge that is white, gray, or green.
If you think you have BV, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Sometimes an infection can clear up on its own, but if you’re noticing symptoms you’ll likely need antibiotics.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Some sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis can result in an itchy vulva. Other symptoms related to STIs include abnormal growths, green or yellow vaginal discharge, and irritation. Getting tested is a good way to rule this out, and it’s generally a good idea anyways if you’re spending time with multiple people on a more casual basis, seeing a new partner, and so on.
Exposing your genitals to products containing chemical irritants and scents may cause an itchy vulva. For women with sensitive skin, some irritants may trigger an allergic reaction causing a rash to develop over various parts of the body including the vaginal area.
Products containing chemical irritants include:
- Bubble bath
- Feminine sprays
- Scented tampons/pads
- Laundry detergent
- Fabric softener
- Topical contraceptives
Some types of skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema may cause redness on the genitals including an itchy vulva.
Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become red and itchy with a scaly texture. For some women, this rash can spread to the vagina causing an intensely itchy vulva.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition where itchy, scaly patches of skin develop on the scalp and joints. Like eczema, this condition can spread to the vaginal area.
Another skin condition that can cause a genital rash is called Lichen sclerosus. This rare condition triggers an itchy white rash to develop primarily on the vulva and anus but it can spread to other areas of the body too. It’s most common in postmenopausal women and is often treated using a prescription-strength topical steroid.
Once you enter menopause, estrogen levels begin to drop. Without sufficient estrogen production, vaginal tissues become thinner and lose moisture resulting in the aforementioned vaginal itch, dryness, and discomfort.
If itching becomes unbearable, your doctor might recommend antihistamines, steroid cream, or hormone replacement therapy to alleviate your symptoms.
This might surprise you, but physical and emotional stress can both cause vaginal discomfort and itch. While this isn’t very common, it’s believed to be related to stress weakening the immune system, increasing your likelihood of developing a vaginal infection.
There are a lot of things that you can do to reduce stress (Here’s a list with 17 tips, to get you started). Reducing can stress will help in a lot of different ways, too. In general, it’s something that will improve your health and your quality of life so regardless of what’s going on with your vulva – get those stress levels down for a better life.
Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that develops on external female genitalia. It is noticeable by a lump or sore on the vulva that causes itching, pain, skin changes, and bleeding that is unrelated to menstruation. Any woman can develop vulvar cancer but the risk increases as you age.
It’s not as common for younger women but it’s still possible so don’t write off the risk entirely – especially if other items on this list aren’t applicable. Other risk factors include: smoking, weakened immune system, HPV, and having a skin condition like Lichen sclerosus. If you have concerns, you should definitely visit your doctor to rule out anything more serious.
You might not be able to prevent an itchy vulva entirely, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk. Here’s a list of some things you can try to be mindful about:
- Practice safe sex to prevent STIs
- Avoid douching and using scented products near your genitals
- Wash your genitals (external) with only warm water
- Attend regular gynaecological exams and screenings
- Use scent-free, natural lubricant during sex
- Wear loose clothing and cotton underwear
- Wipe from front to back following a bowel movement
- Change out of wet clothing right away
- Eat probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi
- Drink plenty of water
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Vulva
While uncomfortable, an itchy vulva is generally not a huge concern and may resolve itself after a few days, especially if it’s caused by something that’s easy to treat and deal with.
However, if you notice symptoms like redness, swelling, unusual vaginal discharge and/or odor, pain, or unexplained vaginal bleeding you should make an appointment with your doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.
During your appointment, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, and sexual history. They may also request a pelvic exam and take samples of your vaginal discharge for further testing if necessary.
Treatment will depend on what is causing your symptoms, but for most infections you can expect antibiotics and/or topical treatment for relief.