DefinitionVaginal itching is a tingling or uneasy irritation of the skin of the vagina and the surrounding area (vulva). The itching may cause a desire to scratch the affected area.
Alternative NamesPruritus vulvae; Itching - vaginal area; Vulvar itching
Common CausesCommon causes of vaginal itching include:Chemical irritants such as detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches, and contraceptive foams or jellies.Menopause. A drop in the hormone estrogen causes vaginal dryness.Stress may increase vaginal itching and make you more susceptible to infections.Vaginal yeast infectionVaginitis. Vaginitis in girls before puberty is common. If a young girl has a sexually transmitted vaginal infection, however, sexual abuse must be considered and addressed.Other possible, but less common, causes of vaginal itching include:Precancerous skin conditions of the vulvaPinworms (a parasite infection mainly affecting children)
Home CareTo prevent and treat vaginal itching:Avoid colored or perfumed toilet tissue and bubble bath.Avoid feminine hygiene sprays and douches.Change out of wet clothing, especially wet bathing suits or exercise clothing, as soon as possible.Cleanse the area by wiping or washing from front to back (vagina to anus) after urinating or having a bowel movement.Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when using antibiotics. Check with your doctor.Keep your genital area clean and dry. Use plain, unscented soap.Keep your blood sugar under good control if you have diabetes.Lose weight if you are overweight.Wear cotton panties or pantyhose with a cotton crotch. Avoid panties made from synthetic materials. For infants and toddlers, change diapers often.If you are sure that you have a yeast infection, try over-the-counter creams or vaginal suppositories. See: Vaginal yeast infectionFor itching related to menopause, your health care provider may consider estrogen cream or tablets to insert vaginally. See: Vaginal dryness Teach children to resist and report any attempted sexual contact by another person. Do not try to remove any foreign object from a child's vagina. Take the child to a health care provider right away for removal.
Call your health care provider ifCall your health care provider right away if:You have increased thirst or appetite, unexplained weight loss, frequent urination, or fatigue -- these may be signs of diabetes.You have pelvic or lower abdominal pain or fever.Call your health care provider if:You have blisters or ulcers on your vagina or vulva.You have burning with urination or other problems urinating.You have unusual vaginal bleeding, swelling, or discharge.Your partner also has symptoms or you think you may have a sexually transmitted infection.Your symptoms get worse, last longer than 1 week, or keep coming back despite self-care.
What to expect at your health care provider's officeYour doctor will examine you, including doing a pelvic exam, and ask questions to help diagnose the cause of your vaginal itching. These questions may include:When did the itching begin?Have you had it before?Is the itching severe?Does it limit your activities?Where exactly is the itching? On the inside of the vagina or on the outside (vulva) as well?How often do you bathe or shower?Do you use scented soap, scented or colored toilet paper, or bubble bath?Do you frequently swim or participate in water sports? Do you change your clothes soon after such activities?Do you wear cotton panties or synthetic ones?Do you wear tight pants or tight pantyhose?Do you use douches or feminine hygiene spray?Are you sexually active? Do you use contraception? What type?Does anything make you feel better?Does anything make you feel worse?Have you tried any over-the-counter creams? Which ones?Do you have any other symptoms, such as vaginal bleeding, swelling, rash, or pain on urination?Do you have a personal or family history of diabetes?What medications do you take?What is your menstrual history? How old were you when your periods began? How often do your periods usually come? How long do they generally last?Do you have any allergies?Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:Culture and microscopic exam of vaginal dischargePap smearSkin biopsies of the vulvar areaUrine and blood studies (including hormone levels)The health care provider may prescribe drugs, such as:Antibiotics for bacterial vaginal infections, including sexually transmitted diseasesAntifungal drugs for yeast infectionsBenzodiazepines or antihistamines for nighttime reliefOintments containing hormonesSteroid creams or lotions to reduce inflammation
ReferencesBiggs WS, Williams RM. Common gynecologic infections. Prim Care. 2009 Mar;36(1):33-51,Superficial fungal infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 13.Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, HIV infections. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 22.