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?).
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 be more irritating or even not effective at all." Plus, 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.
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.
Some other STIs also have itching as a common symptom. Midcalf names chlamydia and gonorrhea as two common ones. Both can be treated with medication. For both gonorrhea and chlamydia, other symptoms include abnormal discharge and a burning feeling while peeing. Gonorrhea may also lead to spotting between periods. Because some people see no symptoms for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trich, and other STIs, you should get tested for STIs “at least yearly” even if you have no symptoms, Midcalf says.
“Non-infectious causes also greatly contribute to many cases of vaginal itching,” Midcalf explains. If your vulva has come into contact with a material such as “scented feminine hygiene products, soaps, detergents, and latex, to name a few,” 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
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.”