What are the symptoms of vaginal itching?
This condition is characterised by itching (pruritis) or soreness of the area surrounding the entrance to the vagina (the vulva). There may be a burning sensation, and the affected area may also include the skin around the anus. The skin may be dry and there may also be a whitish vaginal discharge.
The itching and discomfort can be intense, especially at night. Women of any age may develop this form of pruritis.
What is the cause of vaginal itching?
There are several possible causes for this feminine itching. One cause may be vaginal thrush.
In post-menopausal women, itching and discomfort in the vulval area can result from oestrogen deficiency. Diabetes can also be responsible for vaginal itching.
However, in many instances, there are a number of possible underlying factors and determining the precise cause is difficult. Diet, clothing and contact allergy reactions may all be responsible to varying degrees – constant rubbing from tight, constrictive under-clothing that does not allow the air to circulate may cause irritation. Soaps, deodorants, perfumes and sanitary towels may all be implicated as potential local irritants. The vulval skin is sensitive and contact allergy reactions to chemicals and fabrics can easily become a problem.
Some types of food or drink are associated with irritation of the vulval area. Peanuts, tomatoes and spicy foods may trigger the itching, and it is possible that high levels of coffee, milk or beer consumption might also be causative factors.
The itching around the vagina may be part of a wider skin condition affecting the body generally, for example, dermatitis or psoriasis.
What complications might occur?
Vaginal itching is unlikely to lead to any further complications unless it is a symptom of another condition, such as dermatitis or an oestrogen deficiency.
Bacterial or fungal infections of the inflamed skin and vulval surfaces are possible in severe cases, and may need medical attention.
What can I do to treat vaginal itching?
Self-help activities can be grouped under three general headings: wearing suitable clothing; attention to personal hygiene; and avoiding irritants.
This type of problem will be made worse by under-clothing that is tight fitting or occlusive. If air is not able to circulate, the build-up of warmth and moisture will make the itching much worse. Nylon and other man-made materials are moisture-retaining and do not allow adequate air circulation. Excessive warmth and moisture could allow a fungal infection to develop. Loose-fitting cotton under-clothing would be the best option as it is less constrictive and allows moisture to pass through. Close contact between the clothing and the vulva may also cause a sensitivity reaction.
While it is obviously necessary to keep the area clean, care is needed in choosing suitable soaps and cleaning agents if you suffer from sensitivity reactions. Try to avoid using strongly perfumed or scented soaps or deodorants – some people react to these types of products and this could cause the itching. Instead, try using a milder, fragrance-free product, or a soap substitute, to see if there is an improvement. Change sanitary towels, pads or tampons frequently.
Clean the whole area gently and carefully after passing water or a bowel movement, wiping from the vagina towards the back passage. This will minimise the chances of moving bacteria from the anal area to the vulva.
There may be a contact sensitivity or allergy causing the itching and soreness; certain clothing fabrics may have a sensitising effect on the vulva and trigger an allergic reaction. Some foods may also have the same effect. Physical contact in the form of something rubbing or scratching the vulva can either initiate the condition, or make it worse.
Isolating which of these, if any, is the problem may take time and require experimentation. You could keep a diary and note any changes that you make to your diet or the type of clothing you wear and the effect this has on the itching. Be methodical – change only one item in your diet or clothing at a time and then note the effect that it has, before making any other changes.
Treatments for vaginal itching include local anaesthetics, anti-pruritics (anti-itch preparations) and moisturisers.
These products help to sooth itching by numbing the skin. Occasionally, allergic reactions to the local anaesthetic may occur, therefore they should be applied sparingly on first use. Examples of products include Lanacane and Vagisil treatments.
Products such as Eurax help to relieve itching and, like local anaesthetics, should be applied sparingly at first as they can occasionally cause an allergic reaction.
Click to view Eurax products.
Replens Vaginal Moisturiser consists of single use pre-filled vaginal applicators. It may be used to relieve vaginal dryness and itching.
Click to view Replens products.
Oral antihistamines such as Piriton, Benadryl, Clarityn and Zirtek may be of value if you suspect that your itching is caused by an allergic reaction.
Click to view the range of antihistamines available from Pharmacy2U.
Which treatments are available from my doctor?
The treatments available from the doctor will depend on the underlying cause behind the vaginal irritation. If an infection is suspected then antibacterial, antiviral or antifungal preparations may be prescribed to combat this. These may take the form of vaginal pessaries, creams or capsules. Prior to that, the presence of an infection must be confirmed, which will require further investigations (see below).
What additional investigations might be needed?
Vaginal itching that is not responding to self-treatment will require the attention of a doctor. There may be a skin infection and in this case, swabs would be needed from the area of the vulva to try and identify the nature of the infection, along with samples of any vaginal discharge. If a skin disorder was suspected, a small sample of vulval skin might be taken for examination.
Is there any other information I should have?
Advice on treatment can always be obtained from the Pharmacy2U pharmacist. If the condition persists or worsens, you should consult your own doctor.