Vaginal Itching

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is vaginal itching?

Vaginal itching is an abnormal condition of the vagina due to inflammation or infection of the vagina or genitals (vulva).

A common underlying cause of vaginal itching is a vaginal yeast infection (vaginal thrush) caused by Candida albicans. Vaginal itching can also be caused by a variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that affect the vagina, cervix or genitals including:

  • Changes in hormones

  • Excessive stress

  • Infection including sexually transmitted diseases

  • Poor genital hygiene

  • Sensitivity or allergic reactions to certain substances

Making a diagnosis of the underlying cause of vaginal itching includes taking a medical and sexual history and completing a physical and pelvic exam. During a pelvic examination, your health care practitioner will examine the external genitalia and gently open the vagina with a smooth instrument called a speculum in order to view the vagina and cervix. Your provider will also take a small sample of cells to determine if an infection is present and identify the type of infectious organism.

Vaginal itching is treatable. Good hygiene practices, including daily washing of the genitals with mild soap and water, can help to minimize vaginal itching due to poor hygiene but will not cure vaginal itching caused by sexually transmitted diseases or other conditions. Treatment of vaginal itching caused by a disease or infection varies and is tailored to the underlying cause and the presence of any complications. For example, if vaginal itching is caused by a yeast infection, antifungal medications are prescribed. If vaginal itching is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are prescribed.

Some types of vaginal itching can be caused by serious conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases. Seek prompt medical care if you experience persistent vaginal itching. Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes of vaginal itching, such as genital herpes, reduce the risk of potential complications, including meningitis and premature birth.  

What other symptoms might occur with vaginal itching?

Vaginal itching may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, vaginal itching due to a yeast infection generally occurs with a thick, white vaginal discharge with a texture that resembles cottage cheese.

Symptoms that may occur along with vaginal itching

Vaginal itching may accompany other symptoms including:

  • Appearance of tiny parasites, such as pinworms or pubic lice, in the genital area

  • Bleeding

  • Difficulty getting pregnant or infertility due to scarring of the reproductive organs as a result of certain underlying sexually
    transmitted diseases

  • Genital blisters or lesions

  • Genital lumps or bumps

  • Irritation or burning of the vagina or genital area

  • Pain or burning when urinating

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Redness and swelling of the vulva

  • Rash on the skin of the genital area

  • Strong or persistent vaginal odor that may be described as a fish-like odor

  • Symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and irregular or loss of menstrual periods

  • Unusual or heavy and persistent vaginal discharge

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting

Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition

In some cases, vaginal itching can be caused by or indicate a serious underlying condition, such as a sexually transmitted disease. Seek prompt medical careif you have persistent vaginal itching. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have the following symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Dizziness

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or bleeding with pregnancy

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Severe lower abdominal or back pain

What causes vaginal itching?

A very common underlying cause of vaginal itching is a vaginal yeast infection (vaginal thrush) caused by Candida albicans, a common type of fungus. C. albicans yeast normally live in small amounts in the vagina, mouth, intestines, and on the skin without causing problems. However, under certain conditions they can start to multiply and cause an infection. Unusually strong or persistent vaginal itching can also be caused by a variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that affect the vagina, cervix or genitals.

Infectious causes of vaginal itching

Vaginal itching can be caused by different types of infections including:

  • Genital herpes (sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes virus)

  • Genital warts (sexually transmitted disease caused by the human papillomavirus)

  • Overgrowth and imbalance of certain microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, that normally live in the vagina in a certain balance

  • Pubic lice (crabs), which do not infest the vagina but infect and cause itching in the genital area

  • Trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted disease caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis)

  • Vaginal pinworm infection that has spread from the rectum

  • Vaginal yeast infection (vaginal thrush) caused by C. albicans

Noninfectious causes of vaginal itching

Vaginal itching can also be caused by general irritation due to the following:

  • Allergic reaction or irritation of the genitals and vagina by chemicals, such as perfumed soaps, bubble baths, feminine sprays, contraceptive foams, or jellies

  • Douching

  • High-absorbency tampon for a small amount of menstrual flow

  • Menopause

  • Poor genital hygiene, which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast

  • Prolapse of pelvic structures

  • Tampon left in the vagina for more than several hours

  • Wearing tight-fitting underwear or pants, which can result in a heat rash or irritation of delicate genital tissues

What are the potential complications of vaginal itching?

In some cases, vaginal itching can be due to an underlying condition that can result in serious or life-threatening complications. You can minimize the risk of serious complications of vaginal itching by seeking early medical care and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of vaginal itching and some underlying causes include:

  • Adverse effects of treatment

  • Birth defects, premature delivery, miscarriage, and still birth due to sexually transmitted diseases during pregnancy

  • Embarrassment

  • Higher risk of catching HIV/AIDS and other STDs

  • Meningitis

  • Progression of symptoms

  • Spread of certain infections to unborn children during pregnancy and childbirth or through breast-feeding

  • Spread of infection to the eyes or other organs

  • Spread of sexually transmitted diseases to sexual partners

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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