For a woman, there’s nothing more uncomfortable and worrying than a vaginal itch. You’re embarrassed about what may be causing it and whom you should see about it.
The good news is that vaginal itching is usually nothing to be overly alarmed about. It could be due to something as simple as an allergic reaction to your personal skincare products.
Even if it is a symptom of a more serious issue, it can be easily resolved once you get over your embarrassment of visiting your family doctor or gynaecologist.
In this article, I will discuss eight of the most common reasons for vaginal itching.
1. Bacterial vaginosis
An overgrowth of bacteria in the vaginal tract is called bacterial vaginosis. This is the most common cause of vaginal itching.
It occurs when there is an imbalance in the healthy bacteria within the vaginal environment and a change in vaginal pH.
The symptoms are similar to a yeast infection, but the discharge is more watery and carries an odour.
It can be treated with over-the-counter creams, but if symptoms persist, see your doctor.
2. Yeast infection
Every woman is familiar with a yeast infection, which causes abnormal discharge that is curdled, white or thick.
Yeast infections usually occur when the vaginal pH is disrupted – often due to a course of antibiotics, sex, stress or a change in diet.
Women with diabetes are at risk of recurrent yeast infections.
As with bacterial vaginosis, an over-the-counter cream should be able to clear up a yeast infection.
To avoid repeat infections, take a daily probiotic with a high count of live bacteria such as acidophilus.
3. Contact dermatitis
The skin in your genital area is highly sensitive and vulnerable to irritation.
A common form of skin irritation is called contact dermatitis, caused by allergies to certain ingredients in personal care products.
Generally, products that contain perfumes or additives, such as body wash products, laundry detergents, condoms and lubricants, can cause the irritation. Even scented and coloured toilet paper or menstruation products can be a culprit.
Contact dermatitis can cause itching, redness, swelling and thickening of the skin.
Avoid the offending products and use hypoallergenic products instead. You should also avoid shaving your vaginal area and douching.
4. Genetic skin disorders
Eczema and psoriasis are two common inherited skin conditions that can cause redness and itching in the genital area. You would also notice rashes or patches on the skin.
Mild steroid creams like hydrocortisone and oatmeal baths may help relieve the itching. For some women, however, these treatments do not provide long-term relief.
You should visit your doctor to discuss other treatment options.
5. Sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs)
Suffice to say, it can be embarrassing to admit you have an STD that’s causing the vaginal itch.
Conditions like chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea and pubic lice, are common STDs that are transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse.
Itching is only the first sign in an STD. It will progress to more serious symptoms like burning during urination, pain during sex, foul-smelling discharge or sores on your genital area.
STDs can be treated with antibiotics or antiviral medications.
Protect yourself from these diseases by using condoms during sexual intercourse, unless you and your partner are in a long-term, monogamous relationship.
6. Lichen sclerosus
This condition isn’t very common, but it is a serious condition that requires medical attention. It is thought to be caused by hormone imbalance or an overactive immune system.
Lichen sclerosus causes severe itching in the vulvar area and white spots to appear on the skin.
See your gynaecologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you feel an itching and burning sensation at the urethral opening (where your urine comes out), chances are you may have urethritis.
This is a condition where the urethra, or the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the urethral opening, becomes inflamed and irritated.
It can be caused by bacteria like gonococcus (the cause of gonorrhoea) or chlamydia.
The irritation can also be related to non-infectious causes, such as injury due to a catheter or other kinds of genital trauma.
A woman may even have different causes of urethritis at the same time.
Other symptoms of urethritis include a more frequent urge to urinate, discomfort during urination and abnormal vaginal discharge.
Treatment of urethritis involves treating the underlying cause of the condition, such as antibiotics in the case of a gonococcal infection.
Hormonal changes can also cause vaginal itching.
Our hormones tend to fluctuate during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause or when you’re on hormonal methods of birth control.
Another factor that tends to complicate matters during menstruation is the type of sanitary products you use. Pads or pantyliners that contain fragrances or colours can cause irritation and itching.
If you have reason to believe that your hormonal contraception is causing itching, see your gynaecologist to discuss switching contraceptive methods. Don’t stop or change birth control methods without your doctor’s advice.
Now that you know what are the common causes of vaginal itching, you don’t have to live with an unbearable itch anymore.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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