Do you find yourself running to the bathroom stalls at work or discreetly adjusting your pants or underwear in order to relieve vaginal itch? You aren’t the only one. Millions of women complain of vaginal itching – or itchiness that affects the labia, vulva or other intimate parts associated with the vagina. In addition to being downright uncomfortable, chronic itchiness can affect the way a woman feels about herself and can even affect her sex life – especially if the itch is accompanied by abnormal discharge or foul odors.
Don’t Be Afraid to Tell Your Doctor if It’s Itchy Down There!
Vaginal itch can be embarrassing and so we’ve noticed our patients are often shy or embarrassed about acknowledging it. The good news is that we’ll typically notice any signs of redness, irritation, or unusual odor or discharge during your annual exam (one more important reason to make sure you schedule it…).
However, several months can be a long time to wait. If you are experiencing vaginal itch – or inexplicable discomfort in your genitals – please don’t hesitate to give Overlake OB/GYN a call so we can figure out what’s going on and help you find a solution.
In the meantime, here are 5 of the most common reasons women experience itchy and/or burning discomfort in their labia, vulva and/or vagina.
- Bacteria Vaginosis. This is a fancy way of saying that “bad bacteria” are outnumbering the “good bacteria” in your vaginal tissues. Your vagina is a remarkable organ and it typically takes care of itself. The genital tissues, secretions and natural flora and fauna all work together to form a self-cleaning and regulating entity. Even so, things can get a little out of whack – and itching is a common side effect when that’s the case.
Bacteria vaginosis is only diagnosable by your doctor, but is typically accompanied with:
–Discharge that is more watery than thick (the opposite is true with a yeast infection)
–Discharge is more grey or yellow than normal
–A stronger-than-normal fishy odor, and the odor will have a more unpleasant smell
–The aforementioned odor becomes dramatically noticeable after sexual intercourse
In most cases, this type of infection will clear up on its own within a few days. Make sure to eat foods that are rich in pro-biotics, like plain yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods. Avoid using soap directly on your genitals, and do not douche, as these can further diminish the presence of “good” bacteria. You can try over-the-counter remedies to start. However, if your discomfort doesn’t resolve itself within the recommended time period, you need to schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN.
- Yeast Infection. The second most common cause of vaginal itching is a yeast infection. Along with that aforementioned flora and fauna, comes yeast – a fungal entity called Candida albicans, to be precise. When the candida population blooms – itching will ensue. Typically, yeast infections are caused by stress, recent use of antibiotics, an increase in sugary/processed foods, pregnancy and hormonal changes – to name a handful!
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
–A white, cottage cheese-like discharge (although this isn’t always the case – sometimes no noticeable discharge is present)
–Itching that can also burn, especially when urinating or during sex
Do eat a healthy diet and observe the “pro-biotic” foods we listed in Number 1. Yeast infections can be asymptomatic in males and so if your partner has one, he can give it to you. Or, you can give him one that is then passed right back to you. If your discharge is not yellowish or grey, and there isn’t any noticeable fishy or foul odor, try over-the-counter yeast remedies to start. Again, if the symptoms aren’t gone within the recommended amount of time, you should see your doctor.
- Reactions/allergies to common chemicals. Our households are laden with synthetic chemicals that can cause irritation –especially for our more delicate parts. Even if you’ve used a particular soap, shampoo (it still runs down your body and into your crevices while you shower) or detergent for a long time, you can still develop a sensitivity to it. Try switching to more natural health and body care products – look for fragrance-, paraben- and phthalate-free products. Also use fragrance-free laundry soaps and fabric softeners. Hypo-allergenic products are best. This can alleviate a wide range of irritations – and can help your vaginal lining get back on track.
Symptoms of a sensitivity or allergy include:
–Vaginal itching or burning without a smelly or thicker-than-normal discharge
–Red and/or swollen labia, vulvar or vaginal tissues
–A rash and/or thickened skin
Also called “contact dermatitis,” this version of vaginal itching can be caused by a myriad of other things as well: scented toilet paper, latex condoms (try using non-latex versions), lubricants, shaving, etc. You may have to go au naturel for a while to see if any of these are the cause.
- STDs. There are several STDs that have vaginal itching as a symptom. Some of the most common include trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes. If you have had sex with multiple partners (even if you use a condom), are having unprotected sex with more than one partner or with a partner who you suspect may have been unfaithful, or you have recently changed sexual partners, we highly recommend you get tested for STDs immediately. In addition to improving your own physical comfort, you want to make sure you aren’t unwittingly spreading STDs to others.
In most cases, your insurance company will pay for all – or a large portion – of the testing fees. If not, many local women’s health clinics provide STD testing for little or no cost to you.
- Synthetic fibers. In a perfect world, your vagina would be free, unfettered and aired out regularly. Unfortunately, our modern fashion industry ensures our lady parts are tightly bound, infiltrated by a seam and/or coming into direct contact with heat and moisture-trapping fibers – especially when those fibers are synthetic. To avoid vaginal itching – and to relieve the symptoms of bacterial or yeast infections – try to wear loose-fitting clothing whenever you can. Cotton undies are always preferred and go without at home so your parts can air out.
Have persistent vaginal itch or a feeling that things just “aren’t quite right” in your nether regions? Contact Overlake OB/GYN to schedule an appointment or to speak with one of our knowledgeable healthcare professionals.