Author: Dr Peter England, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Updated September 2023
What do you do when you’ve got an itchy vagina? When you’re not sure why your genital area is itchy and whatever you’ve tried to fix the issue just isn’t working?
Easy. Speak to your doctor or gynaecologist.
When you describe the symptoms of an itchy vagina, your doctor may refer to this as vulval itch.
An itchy vagina, (or having vulval itch) is highly irritating and a most unpleasant symptom.
There are a few different conditions that can cause you to have itchy genitals.
Most of the causes are easy for your gynaecologist to identify and treat successfully. However, often women are too embarrassed or frightened to seek medical help early on. Some women unnecessarily put up with discomfort for weeks or even months before seeking help.
What does the word vulva mean?
The vulva refers to the external female genitalia. This includes the labia majora and minora (the outer and inner lips), the clitoris, and the perineum – the area of skin between the vagina and the anus.
What can cause my vagina to be so itchy?
There are a number of factors that can cause itch, burning, or even pain and tenderness.
- Soap applied to the delicate vulval skin is quite irritating and dries out the surface layer of the skin, leading to inflammation.
- Pantyliners: when used by a woman as a routine the chafing and overheating of the skin causes an allergic-type reaction in the skin, akin to dermatitis.
- Synthetic underwear: underwear made of synthetic material don’t breathe well, causing excessive heat on the surface of the skin and exacerbating the above factors.
- Latex condoms, lubricants, spermicides, douching, talcum powder and using baby wipes can all provoke an allergic reaction
- Tinea cruris: this little bug (trichophyton rubrum) lives off the cells in the very surface of the skin and can cause itch.
- Candida (thrush) Vaginal thrush can certainly not only irritate the lower vaginal canal but the external genitalia as well.
- Bacterial Vaginosis: an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina which often is associated with an offensive odour.
- Lichen Sclerosis is a common complaint often, but not exclusively, in postmenopausal women. This autoimmune disorder is associated with scarring in the vulval tissue and atrophy (shrinkage) of the labia and clitoral areas. Left untreated for many years the skin can undergo cancerous change.
- Vulval Carcinoma: Cancer of the vulva is a serious disease requiring urgent assessment and formal surgical treatment. Again, this is mostly seen in postmenopausal women. Sometimes the skin abnormalities are detected early in a pre-cancerous phase and require only local excision.
If I have an itchy vagina, what should I do?
You should definitely see your doctor or gynaecologist.
I find patients who attend my practice with any form of genital itch are suffering a great deal. The fix is usually easy, assessment can be simple and help with appropriate treatment is easily provided.
Typically after taking a history to check on the above possibilities, a simple external examination of the vulval area may give an instant answer. Sometimes taking swabs from the skin or lower vagina helps with the diagnosis.
Occasionally, if the skin has a suspicious appearance, a simple, small biopsy of the skin will be sent for testing to provide the answer.
What can I do if I have itchy genitals?
- Stop using soap on the vulva. Switch to a non-soap cleanser such as QV, Cetaphil or Pinetarsol bath wash. Do not use Dove on the vulva: yes, it has moisturiser but it is still soap.
- Cease using panty liners as a part of your daily routine and start wearing comfortable loose cotton underwear which breathes and is not prone to causing an allergic reaction.
- A quick trial of vaginal Canesten cream or pessaries (vaginal tablets) is worthwhile but if this does not cure the condition you really must see a doctor.
- Depending on what the diagnosis is I may prescribe anti-fungal medication, antibiotics, or commonly, topical anti-inflammatory steroid-based creams. The duration of treatment will vary according to the cause of your itchiness. Lichen sclerosis, for example, is a chronic skin complaint and may initially require regular daily application of creams, followed by ongoing less frequent applications to keep the inflammation at bay.
- Sometimes, an oral medication taken at night to dampen down the rich supply of nerve fibres in the vulva may help if the itch is resistant and described as painful.
So what’s the main message about genital or vulval itch?
Don’t be shy or embarrassed.
See your doctor, get treated and you should start to feel more comfortable soon.
This article is written by Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Peter England.
To make an appointment for a gynaecology appointment, call the rooms today.
This article has been written by Dr Peter England – Expert Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Read more about Dr Peter England
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