Whether it’s a mosquito bite or an allergic reaction, itching can be annoying… especially when it’s your vulva or vagina that’s itching. While you might jump to “yeast infection” as the explanation for an itchy vagina, it’s not the only cause. Itching is a symptom of many types of vaginal infections, both sexually transmitted and not. And itching can be caused by other factors, too (anyone else ever regret buying the cheapest bubble bath?).
While some itchy vaginas can be remedied at home, if your itching is persistent, you’ll want to get checked out by a professional. We talked to nurse practitioner Ebony Midcalf, MSPH, MSN, WHNP-BC about common causes of an itchy vag.
Although douching has been branded as a way to "cleanse" your vagina, doctor's don't recommend it. As experts will tell you, the vagina is a "self-cleaning oven." Not only does your vagina not need a deep clean, rinsing yourself out like that can actually disrupt your vaginal pH, which can lead to itch. Douching throws off your vagina's natural balance, explains Planned Parenthood. "If you already have an infection, douching can make it worse," the site adds.
Although a yeast infection isn’t the only explanation for vaginal itching, it is a common one — about 75% of people with vaginas will have at least one yeast infection in their lives. “In the case of a suspected yeast infection, over-the-counter yeast creams can be used, and in some cases the yeast infection will resolve,” explains Midcalf. "However, over-the-counter medications can sometimes be more irritating or even not effective at all." Additionally, one study found that about two-thirds of cis women who self-diagnose yeast infections don’t actually have yeast infections, so it’s a good idea to see a doctor to know for sure.
Along with itching, other symptoms of yeast infections include an irritated or swollen vulva, cottage cheese-like discharge, and pain during sex. A yeast infection happens when a change in your vaginal environment causes the small amount of yeast that’s there normally to overgrow.
Bacterial vaginosis, aka BV, is often mistaken for a yeast infection. BV is “a shift in the pH balance of the vagina,” explains Midcalf. “It can cause itching, as well as an odor often described as ‘fishy.’” Like yeast infections, BV is common — in fact, according to the CDC, it’s the most common vaginal infection in cis women ages 15-44, even more common than yeast infections. Along with itchiness and odor, common symptoms include a gray or white discharge and a burning feeling when you pee (similar to a UTI). Like yeast infections, BV is treatable with medication.
Trichomoniasis, aka trich, is a common sexually transmitted infection that has similar symptoms as BV and yeast infections. According to the CDC, trich is the most common curable STI in sexually active women, and it’s cured with antibiotics. It’s caused by a parasite and can be transferred to a partner, so if you do have trich, you should give your partner or partners a heads-up so they can get treated, too. Along with itching, trich symptoms include a yellow-green discharge, a foul odor, and irritation. However, the majority of people with trich — about 70% — don’t show symptoms.
Gonorrhea Or Chlamydia
Midcalf names chlamydia and gonorrhea as two common STIs that include itching as a possible symptoms. Other symptoms for both chlamydia and gonorrhea include abnormal discharge and a burning feeling while peeing, and gonorrhea may also lead to spotting between periods.
Some other common STIs, such as genital herpes, genital warts, and pubic lice, also include itching as a possible symptom. You should get tested for STIs “at least yearly” even if you have no symptoms, Midcalf says.
If you're sexually active, your itchy vulva may be caused by an allergy to latex, ingredients in lube, or even (rarely) semen. If you notice redness and itching that appears soon after sex, this may be the explanation.
“Non-infectious causes also greatly contribute to many cases of vaginal itching,” Midcalf explains. If your vulva has come into contact with scented feminine hygiene products, soaps, or detergents, you may experience itching. This can be cured by simply stopping contact — for example, changing your detergent or making sure to wear breathable cotton underwear.
Less Common Causes
Midcalf points out that there are also less common explanations for vulva itchiness, including skin conditions such as eczema, lichen sclerosus, or lichen planus, and, rarely, malignancy such as vulval cancer.
What To Do About An Itchy Vagina
“There are few scenarios that can be treated at home when it comes to vaginal itching,” Midcalf says. These scenarios include stopping the use of an irritating product or trying an over-the-counter treatment for a yeast infection. “Many of the causes of vaginal itching have similar symptoms and are therefore difficult to self-diagnose,” Midcalf says. “Therefore, it is best to see a professional for persistent symptoms, and yeast symptoms that are not relieved by over-the-counter yeast creams.”