If you’re itchy down there, it can be uncomfortable in a number of ways. For starters, you can’t just walk around scratching all day. And while you might be worried about WTF making your vagina itch, you might be too embarrassed to talk about it — or even Google it. (Hellooo, nasty search history.) But rest assured, occasional itching is pretty common, and there are a few reasons why you may have an itchy vagina.
“Think of the vaginal area. It’s warm, dark, and humid pretty much all the time,” said Lori Harrison, a women’s health care nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu, Hawaii. “It’s the perfect environment for itching and irritation.” Luckily, it’s usually easily treatable.
Below, Harrison and Dr. Draion M. Burch, DO (“Dr. Drai”), a board-certified OB/GYN in Atlanta, Georgia, shares common causes of vaginal itching and how to get relief as soon as possible.
They’re annoying but very common. “Candida [a common type of yeast that can lead to fungal infections] is always present in the body in small amounts,” explains Dr. Drai. “But when the normal acidity of the vagina changes or when hormone levels change, candida can multiply and cause problems.” If you notice discharge that resembles cottage cheese, yeast is likely the culprit. In this case, call your doctor, who can assess the situation and suggest the best treatment.
Anything you do to beautify or use your nether regions can affect the delicate ecosystem down there. In medicine, this is commonly referred to as contact dermatitis. If the itch is mostly external, it may just be an ingrown hair from shaving or a reaction to a scented vaginal product.
“The vagina is sensitive. It responds to scents and perfumes by becoming irritated and often itchy,” says Harrison. If you have an ingrown hair, use a warm compress to open the follicle. And throw away any hygiene products that cause a reaction—all you really need is mild soap anyway. Certain activities, such as bicycling and tight clothing, can irritate your vagina and also cause itching.
Shaving, douching, and scented products can not only cause irritation but also trigger an infection. “These things will kill your good bacteria,” says Dr. Drai. This allows bad bacteria to take over the area, which can cause itching, discharge, painful urination, and a foul, sometimes fishy, odor. If you think an infection might be to blame, call your gynecologist to make an appointment. A prescribed antibiotic is usually the solution in this situation.
Eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, and other chronic skin conditions can also affect the skin on your vulva. If you notice red or scaly patches on the skin near your vagina, especially if you already have an inflammatory skin condition elsewhere on your body, call your doctor.
In general, too much stress can affect your body in a number of ways (headaches, upset stomach, muscle tightness, to name a few), and your vagina isn’t immune to it. Stress messes with your hormones, and hormonal imbalance can cause vaginal itching. “Stress, whether good or bad, can change your normal balance,” says Harrison. Your favorite stress-relief techniques can help get things moving again. If that doesn’t help, call your gynecologist.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
If you are sexually active, you cannot completely rule out the possibility of a sexually transmitted infection or STI. Vaginal itching is a symptom of infections such as chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Don’t panic, but call your doctor — especially if you notice other worrisome symptoms, like painful peeing or abnormally colored discharge (thick, cloudy, bloody, white, gray, yellowish, or greenish). To reduce your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, always practice safe sex and use a condom.
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