What Causes Vaginal Itching – When Should You Be Worried?

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When persistent, vaginal itching is often a sign of an underlying condition. A host of reasons can cause vaginal itch, including yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and hormonal imbalances. An itch that gets worse with time or accompanies symptoms such as a fishy-smelling discharge or fever must never be ignored.

Many women experience vaginal itch at some point in their lives. Some of this itching may be due to chafing and will often go away on its own. However, when vaginal itching is persistent, develops inflammation, or causes great discomfort, it should not be ignored. The causes of vaginal itching can vary drastically, but it basically comes down to the vaginal pH, which must stay in an acidic range.1 When this pH balance is disturbed, due to things such as excess antibiotic use and poor hygiene, itching, inflammation, and infection can occur. Here are a few reasons why girls and women of all ages may experience vaginal itching.

Vaginal Irritation in Pre-Pubescent Girls

In children, the cause of vaginal infection and itching is mostly due to poor hygiene. After passing stools, girls are advised to wipe from the front to the back, as the space between the anus and the vaginal opening is very small. Wiping in any other direction can cause bacteria from the stool to enter the vagina.2 Some children may also experience itching due to an allergic reaction to certain soaps and detergents.

A persistent itch in the vaginal area could also be a sign of sexual abuse, especially if the child is experiencing other symptoms like general lethargy or mood swings. This is more uncommon, but important to address.3

Vaginal Irritation In Adult Women

There are several reasons why an adult may be experiencing vaginal irritation. The most common causes of itching are due to bacterial, fungal, or protozoan infections. Bacterial vaginosis is most often accompanied by a grayish, fishy-smelling discharge,4 while a fungal infection (or vaginal yeast infection) will show up as curdled discharge.5 A rarer condition, trichomoniasis is caused by a protozoan organism, which can typically cause a frothy discharge.6 All of these infections must be caught and treated in a timely manner so that they don’t become more severe. Prescription medication and topical creams usually resolve the problem within a few days.

Vaginal itching can also be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, such as chlamydia or herpes. These also must be checked out and addressed by a doctor as early as possible.

And while this may seem obvious, forgetting to take out a tampon can lead to bacterial vaginosis and uncomfortable itching. On an average, tampons need to be changed or removed every 4–8 hours. When used beyond 8–10 hours, tampons can up your risk of infection. And in some cases, if left in the vagina for a long period of time, a tampon can cause a very dangerous, life-threatening condition called toxic shock syndrome.7

Vaginal Irritation After Menopause

Unfortunately, vaginal itching is one of the many unwanted gifts menopause can bring. Due to dropping estrogen levels, the vaginal lining thins out, which can increase a woman’s susceptibility to infections. One way to address this issue long-term is to have a doctor treat the area locally with estrogen.8

Other Causes Of Vaginal Itching

Some body washes and talcum powders with harsh chemicals can also cause irritation in the vaginal area. Douching, once a common practice, is no longer recommended – the vagina can actually clean itself quite effectively. Douching even just once a month could increase the incidence of bacterial vaginosis.9

Keep in mind that skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can cause general itching throughout the body, including the vaginal area. If there are no other symptoms, such as an unusual discharge, it’s best to eliminate one cause at a time to figure out the root cause of any itching or irritation. See a doctor immediately if the itching persists, worsens, or is accompanied by a fever.10

How To Best Avoid Vaginal Itching

Probiotics promote health throughout the body, including the vagina. Take a probiotic supplement, either as a capsule or a suppository, and/or add yogurt as a regular part of your diet.11 And, most importantly, keep the whole area clean!

References   [ + ]

1.Guaschino, S., and C. Benvenuti. “SOPHY project: an observational study of vaginal pH and lifestyle in women of different ages and in different physiopathological conditions. Part I.” Minerva ginecologica 60, no. 2 (2008): 105-114.
2.Jones, Rupert. “Childhood vulvovaginitis and vaginal discharge in general practice.” Family practice 13, no. 4 (1996): 369-372.
3.Hammerschlag, Margaret R., Marinella Cummings, Brinda Doraiswamy, Phyllis Cox, and William M. McCormack. “Nonspecific vaginitis following sexual abuse in children.” Pediatrics 75, no. 6 (1985): 1028-1031.
4.Eschenbach, David A., Sharon Hillier, Cathy Critchlow, Claire Stevens, Timothy DeRouen, and King K. Holmes. “Diagnosis and clinical manifestations of bacterial vaginosis.” American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 158, no. 4 (1988): 819-828.
5.Eckert, Linda O., S. E. Hawes, C. E. Stevens, L. A. Koutsky, D. A. Eschenbach, and K. K. Holmes. “Vulvovaginal candidiasis: clinical manifestations, risk factors, management algorithm.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 92, no. 5 (1998): 757-765.
6.Brown, M. T. “Trichomoniasis.” Practitioner 209, no. 253 (1972): 639-644.
7.Shands, Kathryn N., George P. Schmid, Bruce B. Dan, Deborah Blum, Richard J. Guidotti, Nancy T. Hargrett, Roger L. Anderson et al. “Toxic-shock syndrome in menstruating women: association with tampon use and Staphylococcus aureus and clinical features in 52 cases.” New England Journal of Medicine 303, no. 25 (1980): 1436-1442.
8.Sturdee, D. W., and N. Panay. “Recommendations for the management of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy.” Climacteric 13, no. 6 (2010): 509-522.
9.Ness, Roberta B., Sharon L. Hillier, Holly E. Richter, David E. Soper, Carol Stamm, James McGregor, Debra C. Bass, Richard L. Sweet, and Peter Rice. “Douching in relation to bacterial vaginosis, lactobacilli, and facultative bacteria in the vagina.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 100, no. 4 (2002): 765-772.
10.Vaginal Itching and Discharge, Merck Manuals.
11.Cribby, Sarah, Michelle Taylor, and Gregor Reid. “Vaginal microbiota and the use of probiotics.” Interdisciplinary perspectives on infectious diseases 2008 (2009).

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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