Vaginal itching

Definition

Vaginal itching is a tingling or uneasy irritation of the skin of the vagina and the surrounding area (vulva). The itching may cause a desire to scratch the affected area.

Alternative Names

Pruritus vulvae; Itching - vaginal area; Vulvar itching

Common Causes

Common causes of vaginal itching include:

  • Chemical irritants such as detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches, and contraceptive foams or jellies.
  • Menopause. A drop in the hormone estrogen causes vaginal dryness.
  • Stress may increase vaginal itching and make you more susceptible to infections.
  • Vaginal yeast infection
  • Vaginitis. Vaginitis in girls before puberty is common. If a young girl has a sexually transmitted vaginal infection, however, sexual abuse must be considered and addressed.

Other possible, but less common, causes of vaginal itching include:

  • Precancerous skin conditions of the vulva
  • Pinworms (a parasite infection mainly affecting children)

Home Care

To prevent and treat vaginal itching:

  • Avoid colored or perfumed toilet tissue and bubble bath.
  • Avoid feminine hygiene sprays and douches.
  • Change out of wet clothing, especially wet bathing suits or exercise clothing, as soon as possible.
  • Cleanse the area by wiping or washing from front to back (vagina to anus) after urinating or having a bowel movement.
  • Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when using antibiotics. Check with your doctor.
  • Keep your genital area clean and dry. Use plain, unscented soap.
  • Keep your blood sugar under good control if you have diabetes.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Wear cotton panties or pantyhose with a cotton crotch. Avoid panties made from synthetic materials. For infants and toddlers, change diapers often.

If you are sure that you have a yeast infection, try over-the-counter creams or vaginal suppositories. See: Vaginal yeast infection

For itching related to menopause, your health care provider may consider estrogen cream or tablets to insert vaginally. See: Vaginal dryness

Teach children to resist and report any attempted sexual contact by another person. Do not try to remove any foreign object from a child's vagina. Take the child to a health care provider right away for removal.

Call your health care provider if

Call your health care provider right away if:

  • You have increased thirst or appetite, unexplained weight loss, frequent urination, or fatigue -- these may be signs of diabetes.
  • You have pelvic or lower abdominal pain or fever.

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have blisters or ulcers on your vagina or vulva.
  • You have burning with urination or other problems urinating.
  • You have unusual vaginal bleeding, swelling, or discharge.
  • Your partner also has symptoms or you think you may have a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Your symptoms get worse, last longer than 1 week, or keep coming back despite self-care.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your doctor will examine you, including doing a pelvic exam, and ask questions to help diagnose the cause of your vaginal itching. These questions may include:

  • When did the itching begin?
  • Have you had it before?
  • Is the itching severe?
  • Does it limit your activities?
  • Where exactly is the itching? On the inside of the vagina or on the outside (vulva) as well?
  • How often do you bathe or shower?
  • Do you use scented soap, scented or colored toilet paper, or bubble bath?
  • Do you frequently swim or participate in water sports? Do you change your clothes soon after such activities?
  • Do you wear cotton panties or synthetic ones?
  • Do you wear tight pants or tight pantyhose?
  • Do you use douches or feminine hygiene spray?
  • Are you sexually active? Do you use contraception? What type?
  • Does anything make you feel better?
  • Does anything make you feel worse?
  • Have you tried any over-the-counter creams? Which ones?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding, swelling, rash, or pain on urination?
  • Do you have a personal or family history of diabetes?
  • What medications do you take?
  • What is your menstrual history? How old were you when your periods began? How often do your periods usually come? How long do they generally last?
  • Do you have any allergies?

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

  • Culture and microscopic exam of vaginal discharge
  • Pap smear
  • Skin biopsies of the vulvar area
  • Urine and blood studies (including hormone levels)

The health care provider may prescribe drugs, such as:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial vaginal infections, including sexually transmitted diseases
  • Antifungal drugs for yeast infections
  • Benzodiazepines or antihistamines for nighttime relief
  • Ointments containing hormones
  • Steroid creams or lotions to reduce inflammation

Figures

References

Biggs WS, Williams RM. Common gynecologic infections. Prim Care. 2009 Mar;36(1):33-51,

Superficial fungal infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 13.

Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, HIV infections. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 22.

Revision

Last reviewed 11/7/2011 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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