What to Know About Vaginal Itching
Advisory by Roman Lester Rosales, Guardian Pharmacist
As with any type of irritation, vaginal itching may bring about severe discomfort. Although most genital itching or irritation may not be a major concern, the sensitivity of the vaginal area may make it especially uncomfortable.
What causes itching?
Vaginal itching is described as a tingling sensation or uneasy irritation of the skin in the vagina and the surrounding area. The itch may be brought about by numerous causes. Chemical irritants present in detergents, soaps, douches, bath products, toilet paper, condoms, lubricants or feminine hygiene products may lead to redness and irritation of the vaginal area, thus leading to itching.
Vaginal dryness is also a very common cause of itching. Dryness may occur from using soaps or feminine hygiene products with high alcohol content. Very frequent washing of the genital area may also lead to rebound dryness. In menopausal women, decreased production of the hormone oestrogen may lead to thinning and drying of the vaginal walls (also known as vaginal atrophy), in turn causing vaginal itch and irritation.
Vaginitis or the inflammation of the vagina may also lead to itching. Vaginal vaginitis is usually caused by an imbalance in the vaginal flora or an infection. Common types of vaginitis may include bacterial vaginosis, vaginal candidiasis (thrush), trichomoniasis and athropic vaginitis. Vaginal yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis is a common infection of the vulvovaginal area caused by Candida species of yeast fungi. Vaginal thrush may cause symptoms such as itching, redness and the presence of odourless, thick, white discharge. Candidiasis often happens in pregnant women, those on a course of antibiotics or the immuno-compromised.
It also believed that psychological stress may increase the risk of vaginal itching. This is most likely due to stress having a negative effect on a person's immunity, which increases a person's susceptibility to infections, especially candidiasis.
Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, genital herpes, warts and gonorrhoea may also cause itching and irritation, most of the time coupled with other symptoms such as pain and discharge.
Managing the itching
Vaginal itching or irritation is often self-limiting, meaning it often goes away on its own. However, it may be very uncomfortable that women tend to seek treatment to manage the symptoms and relieve the discomfort. In cases of simple itching and minor irritation, there are a couple of ways to manage the symptoms.
Proper vaginal hygiene is paramount in managing vaginal itching. Keeping the area clean using plain, unscented soap or feminine wash regularly and keeping it free from moisture is important. Avoid coloured or scented sanitary pads, toilet tissues, bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, douches and creams to prevent irritation due to the chemical components present in the products. However, very frequent washing is not recommended as doing so may subsequently lead to dryness.
When cleansing after urinating or bowel movement, remember to wash and wipe from front to back (vagina to anus) To prevent the growth of fungi due to moist environments, keep the genital area dry by changing out of wet clothing (e.g. exercise clothing) as soon as possible, wearing cotton underwear and changing them on a daily basis.
If the itching is due to dryness, using vaginal moisturisers or water-based lubricants may help to relieve the discomfort. Lubricants may also be used prior to sexual intercourse to prevent dryness. Using condoms during intercourse reduces the risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases too. However, when diagnosed with vaginal infections, it is recommended to abstain from sexual intercourse until the symptoms have improved. Most importantly, do not scratch the area as scratching may lead to further irritation, broken skin and hence the risk of infections.
If symptoms suggest vaginal yeast infection, over-the-counter and pharmacy medications (oral anti-fungal capsules, vaginal tablets or pessaries) are available from the pharmacy for the management of the symptoms. Some types of itching and irritation may respond to steroidal creams which reduce inflammation and itching. However, these topical preparations are only advised to be applied sparingly and only externally.
If the itching is too much
Vaginal itching is caused by numerous factors and may lead to mild to severe discomfort. Monitoring the condition is important and seeking treatment is advised when necessary. Management of symptoms through good hygiene is essential but if self-care is not enough to relieve the itching and irritation, consult your healthcare professional.