When you’re itchy down there, it can be uncomfortable in so many ways. For starters, you can’t exactly walk around scratching your erm, vagina, all day. And while you may be worried about what is making you itch, you may be too embarrassed to talk about it — or even Google it. (Hello, awkward search history.)
But rest assured, the occasional itch is pretty common. “Think about the vaginal area. It’s warm, dark, and moist pretty much all the time,” says Lori Harrison, a Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner at Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii. “It’s the perfect environment for itching and irritation.” Luckily, it’s usually no big deal and easily treatable.
Here are a few common causes of vaginal itching and how to get relief.
1. Yeast infections:
They’re annoying, but super-common. “Candida [a common type of yeast that can lead to fungal infections] is always present in the body in small amounts,” says Draion M. Burch, DO (“Dr. Drai”), a board-certified OB/GYN and Astroglide’s sexual health advisor. “But when the normal acidity of the vagina changes or the hormonal balance changes, Candida can multiply and cause problems.” If you notice a discharge that resembles cottage cheese, yeast is likely the culprit. Your doctor can evaluate the situation and suggest the best treatment.
2. Sensitive skin:
Anything you do to spruce up your nether regions can affect the delicate ecosystem down there, so if the itching is mostly external, it may just be an ingrown hair from shaving or a reaction to a scented product. “The vagina is delicate. It reacts to scents and perfumes by getting irritated and oftentimes itchy,” Harrison says. If you have an ingrown hair, use a warm compress to open up the follicle. And toss any hygiene product that causes a reaction — you really don’t need anything more than mild soap, anyway.
3. Bacterial vaginosis:
Not only can shaving, douching, and scented products cause irritation, but they can actually kickstart an infection. “These things will kill your good bacteria,” Dr. Drai says. That allows less-helpful bacteria to take over the area, which can cause itchiness and a foul, fishy odor. If you think an infection might be to blame, give your doctor a call.
4. Skin conditions:
Eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, and other chronic skin conditions can affect the skin on your vulva too. If you notice red or scaly patches on the skin near your vagina, give your doctor a call —especially if you already deal with an inflammatory skin condition on other areas of your body.
As a general rule, too much stress makes your body do more stressful things, and your vagina isn’t immune to this. Stress messes with your hormones, and a hormonal imbalance can cause vaginal itching. “Stress, good or bad, can alter your normal balance,” Harrison says. Your favorite stress-busting techniques may help get things back on track. If that doesn’t help — you guessed it — give your gynecologist a call.
6. Sexually Transmitted Infections:
This is definitely a worst-case scenario, but if you’re sexually active, you can’t completely rule out the possibility of an STI. Chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis all have itching as a symptom. Don’t panic, but do call your doc just in case — especially if you notice any other worrying symptoms, like a weird-colored discharge or pain when you urinate.