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If you’ve ever suffered from itching or irritation in your intimate area, you’re not alone. Vaginal itch is one of the most common gynaecologic complaints, especially among young women. Also known as pruritus vulvae, examination rooms and emergency departments see a multitude of women every year for this ubiquitous problem.
One reason vaginal itch is so widespread is that there are a myriad of causes for the issue. Many women automatically assume they have a yeast infection when they feel the first twinges of irritation in their vulvar or vaginal area.
This is not necessarily the case – yeast infections are simply the most well-known cause for female genital itch.
While vaginal itch often resolves on its own after a few days, causes can range from the benign to quite serious.
It’s for this reason that you should be familiar with the most frequent causes and how to address the problem. Of course, your best resource is always your Healthcare Professional, who can provide you with a definitive diagnosis and effective treatment.
Let’s get the most well-known cause out of the way first – yeast infections, also called vaginal candidiasis or vaginal thrush. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of fungus in the vaginal area and are a common occurrence.
Many women actually have this fungus naturally present in their vaginas and it usually presents no problem. This is due to the natural microecosystem within the vagina. Helpful bacteria, a normal pH (acid/base level), and good hygiene all typically keep yeast under control. However, when this ecosystem is disrupted – perhaps due to a change in diet, poor hygiene, wearing damp clothing, illness, or taking antibiotics – the yeast can begin to multiply and “take over” the vaginal ecosystem. When this happens, itching, pain, and swelling of the vagina and vulva may occur.
You should note that yeast infections are not considered to be sexually transmitted infections.
In fact, women who are not sexually active may actually have more of the fungus naturally present in their vaginas than those who are sexually active. However, sex can transfer the infection between partners. Also, you should avoid having sex if you have an active yeast infection as this may aggravate the itching and irritation.
Yeast infections can also occur in pregnant women. Generally, a yeast infection poses little risk to the baby, but you should consult your Healthcare Professional immediately if you are pregnant and suspect a yeast infection and before beginning any treatment on your own.
Bacterial Vaginosis is the result of an imbalance in the types and amount of bacteria normally present in the vagina. A healthy vagina contains bacteria called lactobacillus. These bacteria protect the vaginal lining, help to maintain pH, and keep harmful invaders away. If the balance of vaginal bacteria shifts away from lactobacillus, a bacterial infection can occur.
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include a foul odour, thick white or gray “cottage cheese” discharge, itching, and painful inflammation.
The infection requires prompt treatment since it can progress to pelvic inflammatory disease or other problems, especially in pregnant women. Bacterial vaginosis often reoccurs, especially if the underlying cause – such as too few lactobacillus bacteria – remains unresolved.
Women who have multiple sexual partners, have an intrauterine device (IUD), or have a sexually-transmitted infection are at higher risk for developing bacterial vaginosis. In some cases, the IUD may need to be removed to resolve persistent, recurrent bacterial infections.
This is another infection, but is not caused by bacteria or fungi. Rather, trichomonas vaginitis is the result of invasion by microscopic protozoa, Trichomonas vaginalis.
The infection can have an immediate or slow onset, meaning the protozoa may linger for weeks or even months before causing any symptoms.
This is important as trichomonas vaginitis is often sexually transmitted and your partner may not be showing signs of the disease. Using condoms will prevent the spread of the trichomonas vaginitis from male partners.
Symptoms include a yellowish/green discharge, a “fishy” odour, redness, and itching. The infection can also spread to the bladder and may cause pain with urination.
Pubic lice, or crabs as they are commonly known, are tiny insects that infest pubic hair and other body hair. Their bites can cause itching as well as gray-blue spots on the thighs, chest, buttocks, and pubic area. While pubic lice can be transmitted during sex, they can also spread by infesting towels, laundry, and bedding.
More serious sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can also cause vaginal itching along with burning, discharge, and pain. Strict condom use is your best defence against these worrisome diseases.
There are several allergic reactions that may cause your vagina or vulva to itch. The most common is an allergy to latex, a material used in most condoms. A latex allergy can develop over time, meaning you may have used latex condoms in the past with no problems but later encounter bumps, redness, swelling, and/or itching. This problem can usually be resolved by switching to non-latex condoms.
Irritation and inflammation of the external female genitalia is known medically as vulvitis. You should be aware that, besides latex, vulvitis can also be caused by perfumes, soaps, bubble bath, bath oils, and dyes.
Another frequent cause of vulvitis is hair removal. Shaving, waxing, and depilatory creams can all irritate your vulva, causing shaving bumps and itching. To avoid this problem, you may want to consider simply trimming your pubic hair and only shaving around your bikini line.
Your vagina should be a moist environment. Of course, sexual arousal provides additional lubrication, but vaginal dryness is really never normal. This problem can be caused by a number of factors, including dehydration, stress, and glandular cysts, but it is most often encountered by post-menopausal women due to hormonal changes.
Vaginal dryness can lead to irritation, itching, and pain during both sex and urination. If dryness persists, it may contribute to bacterial and yeast infections.
Now let’s discuss the best methods of getting rid of vaginal itching. Remember, if you’re ever in doubt, unsure of the cause of your vaginal itch, or unable to resolve the itch on your own, consult your Healthcare Professional immediately.
Naturally, the best way to combat a yeast infection is to avoid one in the first place. Some measures you can take include drinking plenty of water, ingesting alcohol sparingly, wearing cotton underwear instead of synthetic fibres, and avoiding wet or sweaty clothing. Also, avoid G-string style knickers or underwear that is overly tight.
Additionally, some medical providers recommend taking a probiotic containing lactobacillus, as these bacteria will help prevent yeast overgrowth. You can also find lactobacillus in several brands of yoghurt. Just don’t attempt the home remedy of placing the yoghurt in your vagina as this can actually lead to infections.
If you suspect you already have a yeast infection, it’s time to visit your Healthcare Professional.
They will likely perform a pelvic exam and may swab your vagina to check for microorganisms. If a yeast infection is confirmed, you will probably receive an antifungal cream or oral medication. Be aware that many antifungal creams contain oils that break down latex, so condoms are not to be depended on while you’re using these creams.
Take any medication as directed and keep your doctor informed of your progress. If the symptoms of your yeast infection worsen or don’t improve after a few days, you should contact your doctor. You can also try a quality non-prescription product like FloraPlus by Multi-Gyn, this product may assist with alleviating itching, odour, sensitivity, and redness.
Once again, symptoms of bacterial vaginosis mean you need to visit your Healthcare Professional. You will most likely receive a pelvic examination and swab to determine the cause of the infection. If bacterial vaginosis is revealed as the problem, you will probably be issued oral antibiotics and/or an antibiotic cream.
It is crucial that you take the antibiotics as directed. Stopping your antibiotics just because your symptoms have ceased can cause the infection to return stronger than before.
If you’re experiencing frequent or recurrent bacterial vaginosis, speak with your physician about possible preventative measures. These may include using non-allergenic soaps or even switching laundry detergents.
Contact your Healthcare Professional right away if you notice a foul odour and/or yellowish or green discharge from your vagina. These could be signs of trichomonas vaginitis. After a pelvic exam and testing, your doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic to kill the protozoa if trichomonas is confirmed.
As with bacterial vaginosis, be certain to take the antibiotic exactly as directed to avoid reinfection with drug-resistant microorganisms. Also, remember that safe sex with condoms is the best prevention for trichomonas infection.
An infestation of pubic lice requires thorough measures for eradication. You not only need to disinfect yourself but also your environment. This means using a non-prescription, special shampoo on ALL your body and scalp hair, as pubic lice can migrate over the body. You’ll also need to disinfect your pillows, bedding, clothing, towels, and possibly even your carpets.
If you’re having trouble getting rid of pubic lice or if the problem recurs, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a dermatologist or your family doctor.
If you have any reason to suspect you may have a sexually transmitted disease, either due to symptoms or from having sexual contact with someone who has an STD, you need to seek professional medical help right away. The sooner the disease is confirmed and treated, the better your likelihood for a positive outcome.
Allergic reactions to latex, perfumes, dyes, etc. In the vulvar area are rarely serious. They can usually be treated with non-prescription hydrocortisone cream and removal of the offending product. Of course, if these measures are insufficient, see your Healthcare Professional, or dermatologist and they can offer definitive treatment.
An over-the-counter product designed for the intimate area is ideal for vulvar irritation from hair removal.
Occasional vaginal dryness is probably no cause for concern, but persistent or severe vaginal dryness should be discussed with your GYN. They may recommend prescription medication or hormone replacement therapy if you’re past menopause.
The above guide is for informational purposes only and is not intended for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of any disease or condition. Your physician is always your best source of medical advice.
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