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
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
Difficulty getting pregnant or infertility due to scarring of the reproductive organs as a result of certain underlying sexually
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
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:
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)
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
High-absorbency tampon for a small amount of menstrual flow
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
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
Higher risk of catching HIV/AIDS and other STDs
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