Vaginal itching that just won’t go away can be uncomfortable to talk about, and even more uncomfortable to deal with. But before you assume you’re dealing with something like an infection, it’s important to know the other common causes of vaginal itching.
Constant discomfort down there could be something as harmless as irritation from a dull razor or a soap that’s too harsh on your skin—but it can also point to medical conditions, like bacterial vaginosis or even a sexually transmitted infection.
So before you opt for OTC treatments, you really ought to make an appointment with your ob/gyn. “In general, I don’t recommend people try to treat symptoms at home before they come in, unless they’re sure it’s something they’ve had before, like a yeast infection,” says Mae K. Borchardt, MD, a gynecologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. “If that one treatment doesn’t work, don’t keep trying over-the-counter products or home remedies. Go to a doctor, and once we know what you’re dealing with, there are lots of products you can get over-the-counter and use to treat it at home.”
It’s important to rule out more serious causes. For instance, vaginal itching may be caused by trichomoniasis, an STD that affects 3.7 million Americans annually and requires a powerful antibiotic to treat. In rare cases, itching accompanied by a non-healing ulcer may not be a sign of vaginal infection, but rather of vulvar cancer.
However, if your doctor says your itching is a result of something you can treat at home, the fix may be simple. Read on for six things that may be causing you discomfort, and the doctor-approved home remedies that could help you stop itching for answers.
For vulvar itching caused by atopic dermatitis
When you’re dealing with external itching and redness on the vulva—not internal itching that stretches into the vagina—it may be atopic dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin. “About 25 percent of the time when women come in and get tested, we won’t find an infectious cause of their symptoms,” says Dr. Borchardt. “That means the itching may be caused by lifestyle factors or other conditions.” Consider the following if this sounds like you:
Invest in new razors
Dull razors can aggravate the skin around your vagina, causing irritation, redness, and itching. Keep a specific razor handy for the genital area (yes, meaning you should use a different one for your armpits), and swap it out for a new one around every five uses.
Wear loose, breathable clothing
Tight clothing can rub against skin and cause discomfort, especially in warmer temperatures. Opt for 100 percent cotton underwear when you can, but especially while you sleep, to allow more breathing room around the vagina.
Reach for petroleum jelly or coconut oil
“For mild, non-specific itching, I have patients apply something that’s bland and soothing with no active ingredients in it,” says Paul Nyirjesy, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine. “That could be petroleum jelly, coconut oil, or even Crisco vegetable shortening. Just putting a little on your finger and rubbing it into the areas that are itchy can be very soothing.”
For vaginal itching caused by sex
If you recently tried a new personal lubricant with your partner (or you aren’t using enough), it may cause vaginal itching and discomfort. “Many lubricants have alcohol in them, which can be very irritating to the vaginal area, and some people might have an allergy to something they are using, including latex, which is found in the main types of condoms,” says Dr. Bochardt. “Having intercourse without adequate lubrication can also cause a lot of friction, which can cause itching.”
Get picky about personal lubricant
If you do use condoms, opt for a fragrance-free, silicone-based lubricant to enhance pleasure. “Most women do better with silicone lubricants,” says Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and author of Sex Rx. “They tend to be more slippery, last longer, and are not irritating.”
Opt for a new condom
Consider polyisoprene condoms if you have a latex allergy. This option from SKYN fits the bill: The latex-free condoms are pre-lubricated, soft, and ultra-comfortable.
For vaginal itching caused by soaps
You’ve likely heard that douching is not welcomed by your vagina, and can throw off its natural, healthy bacterial balance. Even if you’re not douching, however, the wrong soap can get you scratching. “In general, products used in the vaginal area shouldn’t have any perfume in them, and should be as gentle and mild as possible,” says Dr. Borchardt.
Use something gentle
“I usually recommend a Dove bar with no perfume, which is very moisturizing. Only use it on the outside of the vagina [the vulva], not on the inside—the vagina is a self-cleaning oven, and you don’t have to clean it yourself.”
...and steer clear of feminine sprays, wipes, or deodorants
It’s normal for the vagina to have some sort of scent, but see your doctor if you notice an unpleasant odor. Feminine products can also throw off the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Case in point: In a study from the University of Guelph in Canada, researchers surveyed nearly 1,500 women about their feminine hygiene habits, and a majority of them reported using at least one product—such as feminine wipes, washes, sprays, and powders—in or around their vaginas. The result? Those women had a three times higher chance of experiencing some kind of vaginal health problem, like an infection.
For vaginal itching caused by bacterial vaginosis
Despite its scary name, bacterial vaginosis is actually a very common infection, and occurs when an overgrowth of the vagina’s naturally occurring bacteria causes inflammation. Although it can affect women of any age, women of reproductive age are most likely to contract it, and frequent douching and unprotected sex increase your risk.
Symptoms beyond itching include a gray discharge and a signature fishy odor. If you think you might have bacterial vaginosis, make a doctor’s appointment—you’ll likely need an antibiotic to treat it.
Consider a probiotic supplement
Probiotic supplements may prevent bacterial vaginosis from becoming a chronic issue, says Dr. Borchardt. As they do throughout the rest of the body, probiotics help build up the good bacteria in your vagina and prevent the bad bacteria from growing out of control. Pro-B Probiotic Feminine Supplement is clinically tested and specifically developed to balance both yeast and bacteria, but talk to your ob/gyn before you opt for popping a pill.
For vaginal itching caused by a yeast infection
If it’s the first time you’ve experienced yeast infection symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out other issues. Along with itching, a vaginal yeast infection may cause a burning sensation (particularly during intercourse or urination), a vaginal rash, thick and odor-free vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese, or even watery vaginal discharge.
Go for an antifungal cream
Once you know for certain it’s a yeast infection, over-the-counter medications, such as Monistat, can be helpful. “There are one-day, three-day, and seven-day products, but I recommend the seven-day products,” says Dr. Nyirjesy. “They have lower rates of burning, itching, and irritation than the shorter-term products.”
For vaginal itching caused by menopause
The lower estrogen levels you experience as you approach menopause can actually change the pH balance of your vagina, causing the vaginal walls to thin and dry—a condition called vaginal atrophy.
“Estrogen decreases throughout your lifetime, but it can cause symptoms including itching, irritation, and painful intercourse,” says Dr. Borchardt. “Prescription treatment can be very helpful, but is not an option for women with certain health problems.”
Try a vaginal moisturizer
It’s best to talk to your doctor about the best options for you, but an over-the-counter medication vaginal moisturizer, such as Replens, can ease dryness by helping the vaginal tissues to become thicker and more elastic, resulting in increased lubrication. Dr. Streicher recommends using these products two to five times a week by inserting them in the vagina and applying around the vaginal opening.
Additional reporting by Korin Miller
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