What To Do About The Itch Down There
The possible reasons it's itchy — and the recommended remedies.
There are few things more frustrating than vaginal itching, especially because it’s considered inappropriate to scratch that itch in public. But despite not scratching it, not talking about it and trying to will it into submission, the itchy vag is one of the most common reasons why women visit the gynecologist.
Vaginal itchiness accounts for about 20 percent of all visits to a women’s health care provider, and up to 50 percent of women in the menopausal age group will complain of vaginal itching, dryness or pain with intercourse, says Diana Currie, M.D., an ob-gyn and commissioner chair of the Health Disparities Workgroup in Olympia, Washington.
Here’s why your vagina may be itchy — and some possible remedies.
Details: Yeast infections occur when there’s an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina, says Shweta Shah, M.D., a gynecologist at ClinicSpots. These are the most common cause of vaginal itchiness, affecting 75 percent of women at some time in their lives, with most women experiencing a yeast infection at least two times. Symptoms include itching, burning and redness. Yeast infections can occur after using antibiotics, which causes a vaginal imbalance; uncontrolled diabetes; pregnancy; using oral birth control or hormone therapy; or keeping a damp bathing suit on for too long.
Treat it: It’s best to get a diagnosis from your doctor if this is your first yeast infection. This can be treated with three-to-seven-day, over-the-counter antifungal medications available at any drugstore with the ingredients miconazole and terconazole. They come as a cream, a tablet, an ointment or a suppository. Or, for more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral dose of fluconazole. Home remedies for yeast infections tend to be less effective, but these include using yogurt or apple cider vinegar.
Details: When the skin comes into contact with an irritant, such as soap, detergent or perfume, you may experience itchiness, Shah says. Symptoms include itchiness, redness and swelling. It’s not contagious, and typically occurs a few hours to a few days after exposure, and they aren’t limited to the vaginal area.
Treat it: If you stop using the irritant, your itchiness should simply stop within about three weeks. If your rash is incredibly painful or itchy to the point that you can’t sleep, you should see a doctor. If you can handle it on your own, contact dermatitis can be treated with home remedies such as oatmeal baths, a wet cloth or aloe vera gel, Shah says. “If your vaginal itchiness does not go away after self-treatment, it is important to see a doctor,” she says.
Details: In women over age 40, we often see itching symptoms due to age-related thinning of the skin from lower estrogen hormone levels, aka vaginal atrophy, Currie says. In addition to itching, vaginal atrophy may cause burning, discharge and frequent urination. Most women who are postmenopausal do have some degree of vaginal atrophy.
Treat it: Using lubrication during sex will help with any pain or dryness. But if you’re experiencing constant itchiness, spotting or burning, this may require ongoing treatment, Currie says. Hormone replacement therapy can help with vaginal dryness and other menopause-related symptoms, as this will increase estrogen levels, says Monte Swarup, M.D., an Arizona-based board-certified ob-gyn and founder of HPD Rx.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Details: Our vaginas may be pickier than we are. So sometimes, for reasons doctors still don’t understand, when you switch sexual partners — or when you have multiple sex partners — you may experience BV. It triggers an imbalance of bacteria in your vagina that could cause burning with peeing, itching or a fishy odor after sex.
Treat it: See your doctor, who will most likely prescribe an antibiotic plus a gel, pill or cream. BV often returns, so don’t be surprised if you’re targeted again.
Sexually transmitted disease (STD)
Details: The STDs that most frequently lead to vaginal itching are chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Treat it: The treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea is prescription antibiotics, though other STDs have different treatment options. To see if you have an STD, you will need to be tested by a doctor.
Have you tried any of the above remedies? Let us know in the comments below.