Vaginal Itch or Burning
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Having an itchy vagina is quite a common symptom of either a yeast infection, contact dermatitis of the vagina, or atrophic vaginitis. Read below for more information on causes of vaginal itching and how to relief vaginal burning.
Symptoms of vaginal itch or burning
Itching of the genital area can be an embarrassing and very uncomfortable condition. Your symptoms may be difficult to discuss with your healthcare provider, but fortunately, most cases of vaginal itching are benign and easily treatable. In most people, vaginal itching is not the only symptom, however.
Common characteristics of vaginal itch or burning
Vaginal itch or burning may be transient or persistent and may worsen or resolve on its own, depending on the cause. It can range in severity as well, depending on the cause.
Common accompanying symptoms
Other symptoms associated with vaginal itching may include:
- Painful sex
- Redness or rash on the skin
- Dry or peeling skin
- Bumps or blisters on the skin
- Dysuria: This is painful urination.
- Increased frequency or urge to urinate
- Vaginal discharge that may be abnormal
- Itching that involves other parts of the body: Such as the pubic area, buttocks, and inner thigh
Regardless of your symptoms, making an appointment with your doctor is very important. Prompt medical care will allow you to receive a diagnosis and secure appropriate treatment in order to quickly resolve your symptoms.
Causes of vaginal itch or burning
The vagina is composed of five main parts:
- The labia: These are the folds of skin around the vaginal opening. This includes the labia majora (the outer folds) that are immediately visible and covered with pubic hair, and the labia minora (the inner folds). The labia protect the vagina and clitoris from irritation and injury.
- Clitoris: A gland located at the top of the vagina where the inner folds meet composed of various nerve endings.
- Urethral opening: This is the opening where urine is expelled.
- Vaginal opening: Located right below the urethral opening, the vagina is the orifice that connects the uterus to the outside world.
- Mons pubis: This is a mound of flesh above the vaginal opening that is covered with pubic hair and protects the pubic bone.
Itching of these components is the result of inflammation. Inflammation that results in vaginal itching is commonly due to rashes caused by infections, dermatologic skin conditions, and environmental exposures. Many of these rashes are caused by sexually transmitted infections, but there are also many conditions that are not sexually transmitted. These causes can most easily be categorized into the following groups:
Causes of vaginal itch or burning that are sexually transmitted include the following.
- Bacterial: Many types of outside bacteria can enter the body easily via the urinary tract, including sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Bacterial infections are often the main cause of vaginal itching and its associated symptoms.
- Viral: Sexually transmitted viral infections, also STDs, such as herpes can cause vaginal itching as well as many associated symptoms such as blistering and painful bumps. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is another common viral infection that results in itchy genital warts.
- Other: Organisms such as lice and mites that like to invade dark areas of moisture (the genital area) can also cause intense symptoms of itching. Such organisms require direct skin contact with another infected person and as a result can be transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse.
Non-sexually transmitted causes of vaginal itch or burning include the following.
- Dermatologic: Dermatologic causes include any condition involving the skin, nails, and hair. Many non-sexually transmitted bacteria and fungi can infect the skin and cause itchy rashes. For example, many fungal infections affect the skin and can cause rashes that result in intense itching and discomfort. Candida fungi are very common on the skin and can overgrow in the genital area causing itching.
- Irritation: Scented soaps, lotions, toiletries and other body products such as jewelry can irritate the genital tissue and cause itchy, dry skin. It is important to take note of how your body reacts to certain products and to limit their use in order to control your symptoms.
- Environmental: Keep in mind that not all causes of vaginal itching are medically related. Environmental exposures such as sweat, poor hygiene, and even uncomfortable underwear can irritate the vagina and cause symptoms.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Yeast infections are due to alterations in the balance of microscopic organisms in the vulvar and vaginal regions. The term "yeast infection" is most commonly used to describe symptoms caused by the fungus Candida albicans.
Symptoms include itching of the vaginal and vulva, burning, redness..
Irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina
Contact irritant dermatitis of the vagina occurs when there is an irritant of some sort that causes damage to the skin. The irritation is often caused by friction or chemicals.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, vaginal discharge, urinary changes
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina: vaginal itch or burning
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina: urinary changes, vaginal discharge
Atrophic vaginitis is a common condition that may affect up to 47% of postmenopausal women. It occurs due to low levels of estrogen which can be caused by menopause, medical treatments, and hormonal conditions, among other things.
Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include vaginal dry...
Symptoms of menopause
Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause: delay in or irregular periods
Lichen sclerosus is chronic skin condition in which a person forms patches of white, wrinkly, thin skin, often described as being like "cigarette paper." Most people with this condition will experience it on their anus and genital regions, and some will experience it on other parts of their body.
The primary symptom of lichen sclerosus is the presence of skin changes as well as bruising, bleeding, inflammation, itching and pain in the affected areas.
The condition slowly progresses over time without treatment. Lichen sclerosus is benign but can cause significant discomfort and disfigurement. Treatment options include topical and oral medications, phototherapy, and circumcision in men to remove damaged skin.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vaginal pain, painful sex, dry skin on the outside of the vagina, painful urination
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Vaginal trichomonas infection
Trichomonas vaginalis infection (or "Trichomoniasis" or "trich") is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite of the same name. It affects over 3 million people per year, but only about 30% have any symptoms.
Top Symptoms: vaginal discharge, vulvovaginal odor, vaginal itch or burning, vaginal bleeding, white/gray vaginal discharge
Symptoms that always occur with vaginal trichomonas infection: vaginal discharge
Symptoms that never occur with vaginal trichomonas infection: vaginal ulcer
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Scabies is a rash caused by the microscopic human itch mite. It burrows into the top layer of skin to feed and causes severe itching and irritation.
The mite spreads through direct contact or through infested bedding or furniture. It can infect anyone, though most susceptible are:
- Sexually active young adults.
- Anyone with a weakened immune system.
- Patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Symptoms include intense itching, especially at night, and a rash of tiny red bumps. Scratching may cause the rash to form sores, scales, or crusts. The rash most often forms between the fingers, in the folds of the wrists and elbows, and any place normally covered by clothing.
It is important to get treatment because the scratching can cause an infection in the skin. In children, mites can cover nearly the entire body.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin test.
Treatment involves a prescription for skin cream. Everyone who has come into contact with the affected person must be treated, even if they show no symptoms.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, feeling itchy or tingling all over, butt itch, elbow itch
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Vaginal itch or burning treatments and relief
While it is likely that you need to seek care if this symptom persists, you can begin to manage it at home while you wait for an appointment. More details are provided in the prevention section, but the best methods for dealing with vaginal itch and burning are to make sure to keep the area clean by using mild soap, as well as dry as often as possible. You should also opt for loose, comfortable, breathable clothing.
When to see a doctor
If you are experiencing an itch and discomfort in your genital area, make an appointment with your physician. The earlier you can be seen the faster your symptoms will resolve. Most causes of vaginal itchiness are treatable for most women. Based on your symptoms your physician may:
- Test your urine to see if you have an infection
- Swab the vagina: This is to collect skin cells and determine if bacteria, yeast or other organisms are causing inflammation.
Depending on the findings thereafter, your doctor may prescribe the following:
- Antibiotics: Take antibiotics as instructed, because skipping doses may make the treatment less effective and put you at risk for developing other infections.
- Topical steroid creams: If your itching is due to a dermatologic condition, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid cream to reduce the inflammation and skin changes.
- Antifungal medication or cream: Similar to antibiotics that treat bacteria, there are medications that you can take to treat fungal causes of your symptoms.
If you are looking to prevent these symptoms, there are many things you can do at home and easily change in your routine to help you keep discomfort at bay:
- Use gentle products: Limit the use of any scented bath and body products to reduce the risk of irritation.
- Practice safe sex: Use lubrication and condoms during sexual activity to protect yourself from irritation and sexually transmitted infections.
- Maintain good hygiene Wear breathable clothing around the genital area such as cotton or bamboo. Maintain proper hygiene and keep your genital area clean.
When it is an emergency
You should seek immediate attention for the following.
- You notice drainage or discharge from your vagina that is excessive, bloody, foul-smelling, or a strange color
- You have a fever
- You have back pain or pain in your side (flank pain)
FAQs about vaginal itch or burning
What causes a vaginal yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called candida. Candida is normally present in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina under a delicate balance. When this balance is disrupted due to things such as medication, stress, or injury, candida can overgrow and cause an infection that results in vaginal itching and abnormal discharge.
What are the first signs of a yeast infection?
The first signs of yeast infection include symptoms such as constant itching or irritation of the vaginal opening, pain with urination, and vaginal discharge that may look thick and white. These symptoms are very similar to many other conditions including bacterial infections and dermatitis, so it is very important to get an actual diagnosis and confirm a yeast infection before starting treatment.
How is a yeast infection treated?
A vaginal yeast infection can be treated with topical or oral medications. Many of the topical medications are creams or tablets that you apply directly to the vagina that can be prescribed or bought over-the-counter. Oral treatment is a prescription pill called fluconazole (Diflucan) that is most often reserved for women with more complicated or recurrent infections.
When will my symptoms resolve?
Most yeast infections resolve within a few days of starting treatment, whether the method is topical or oral. However, symptoms of itchiness and irritation may persist, even after the infection goes away. If you do not get better within a few days after completing treatment, make a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider.
What tests are done to help diagnose my vaginal itching?
Your healthcare provider may run tests on a sample of fluid from the vagina (urine, vaginal discharge, etc.) or scrape off skin cells and look at the sample with a microscope.
Questions your doctor may ask about vaginal itch or burning
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- Have you ever had a yeast infection?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
- Managing common vulvar skin conditions. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Updated October 23, 2018. Harvard Health Publishing Link
- Committee on Gynecologic Practice. Persistent vulvar pain. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published September 2016. ACOG Link
- Genital HPV infection – fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated November 16, 2017. CDC Link
- Vaginal yeast infections. Office on Women’s Health. Updated May 24, 2018. OWH Link
- Jeanmonod R, Jeanmonod D. Candidiasis, Vaginal (Vulvovaginal Candidiasis) [Updated 2018 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-. NCBI Link