Itches, the female reproductive and sexual health are not widely discussed. However, there are several health problems attached to them ranging from infections to chronic illnesses. One of them being vaginal or vulvar itching.
When the natural balance of the vagina is disturbed, it leads to bacterial vaginosis (BV). It is characterized by vaginal inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, explains the Mayo Clinic. While there is no exact cause of bacterial vaginosis, certain activities, such as unprotected sex or frequent douching, may increason a women’s risk of the infection.
Chemical irritants, like those found in everyday products that come in contact with the vagina and vulva, can trigger an allergic reaction, known as contact dermatitis. We’re talking alcohol, dyes, fragrances, etc.
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If an irritant is to blame, your vulva and vagina might be itchy, red, and sore.
Products that often contain such irritants include:
soaps, shower gels, and bubble baths
topical contraceptives, like spermicide and Phexxi
creams, lotions, and ointments
scented toilet paper
scented pads and liners
If you experience incontinence, urine can also cause itching and irritation.
Many have dealt with vaginal itching at some point in their lives—and calling it unpleasant would be an understatement. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to experience. What makes things worse is that you may not know why it’s happening. Vaginal itching has a diverse range of causes, from something as manageable as needing to swap out your body wash, to something more pressing, like a sexually transmitted infection.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Symptoms include a strong urge to urinate, a burning feeling when urinating, along with a foul smelling pee. A UTI can also lead to itching and an irritated sensation.
Yeast is a naturally occurring fungus that’s normally present in the vagina. It usually doesn’t cause problems, but when its growth goes unchecked, an uncomfortable infection — aka, vaginal yeast infection — can result.
The overgrowth of yeast in the vagina can result in uncomfortable symptoms, including itching, burning, and thick, whitish discharge that may or may not smell, well, yeasty, like a fresh sourdough loaf.
If you’ve recently taken antibiotics, they may be to blame, as these can destroy good bacteria along with the bad. (FYI, good bacteria is what keeps yeast in check.)
Pregnancy, stress, uncontrolled diabetes, and a hormonal imbalance before your period can also cause yeast infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is a pretty common condition caused by bacterial overgrowth and a pH imbalance in the vagina. Though it can affect all women, higher rates of BV are particularly prevalent among Black women. Experts don’t really know why yet, says Carroll Medeiros, MD, an ob-gyn in Rhode Island. It may be related to a genetic predisposition, per one 2016 study in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology.
But itching actually isn’t the primary symptom of BV—the hallmarks are typically a loose discharge, strong odor, and general irritation (though it definitely can make you itchy too), says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University.