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Genital Itching

(Vaginal Itching; Vulvar Itching)

By

David H. Barad

, MD, MS, Center for Human Reproduction

Last full review/revision May 2022| Content last modified May 2022
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION

Genital itching may involve the vagina or the genital area (vulva), which contains the external genital organs. Itching is an unpleasant sensation that seems to require scratching for relief.

Many women occasionally have short episodes of genital itching that resolve without treatment. Itching is considered a problem only when it persists, is severe, recurs, or is accompanied by a discharge Vaginal Discharge A discharge from the vagina may occur normally or may result from inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis), often due to an infection. The genital area (vulva)—the area around the opening of the... read more Vaginal Discharge .

Causes of Genital Itching

The most common causes of genital itching include the following:

Evaluation of Genital Itching

Doctors can usually determine the cause by asking about symptoms and by examining the genital area and vagina.

Warning signs

When to see a doctor

Women should see a doctor if itching lasts more than a few days or is severe or if other symptoms suggesting an infection (such as pain or discharge) develop.

What the doctor does

Doctors first ask the woman questions about her symptoms, particularly whether she has any symptoms of infection, and about her medical history. She is also asked whether she uses any products that may irritate the area. Doctors then do a physical examination, which focuses on the pelvic examination Pelvic Examination For gynecologic care, a woman should choose a health care practitioner with whom she can comfortably discuss sensitive topics, such as sex, birth control, pregnancy, and problems related to... read more .

If women have a discharge, doctors use a cotton swab to take a sample of the discharge from the vagina or cervix. Doctors examine the sample under a microscope to check for the microorganisms that cause yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and Trichomonas vaginitis. They usually also send a sample to the laboratory to test for gonorrhea Diagnosis Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which infect the lining of the urethra, cervix, rectum, and throat or the membranes that cover... read more Diagnosis and chlamydial infections Diagnosis Chlamydial infections include sexually transmitted infections of the urethra, cervix, and rectum that are caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. These bacteria can also infect... read more Diagnosis (which are sexually transmitted).

Treatment of Genital Itching

The condition causing genital itching is corrected or treated when possible. General measures can help relieve symptoms.

General measures

Changing underwear and bathing or showering once a day help keep the vagina and genital area clean and less likely to become irritated. More frequent bathing or showering may cause excessive dryness, which can increase itching. Using a cornstarch-based unscented body powder can help keep the genital area dry. Women should not use talc-based powders. Washing the area with plain warm water is recommended. But if soap is needed, a nonallergenic soap should be used. Other products (such as creams, feminine hygiene sprays, or douches) should not be applied to the vaginal area. These general measures may minimize exposure to irritants that cause itching.

If itching persists, a sitz bath may help. A sitz bath is taken in the sitting position with water covering only the genital and rectal area. Sitz baths can be taken in the bathtub filled with a little water or in a large basin.

If a medical product (such as a prescription cream) or a brand of condom appears to cause irritation and itching, it should not be used. Women should talk to their doctor before they stop using prescription products.

Drugs

Applying a mild (low-strength) corticosteroid cream such as hydrocortisone to the genital area may provide temporary relief. The cream should not be put into the vagina and should be used for only a short period of time.

For severe itching, an antihistamine taken by mouth may help temporarily. Antihistamines also cause drowsiness and may be useful if symptoms interfere with sleep.

Vaginal infections that cause itching and discharge require antibiotics or antifungal drugs taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina.

Lichen sclerosus is treated with a cream or an ointment containing a high-strength corticosteroid (such as clobetasol), available by prescription.

Key Points

  • Genital itching is a problem only when it persists, is severe, recurs, or is accompanied by pain or by a discharge that looks or smells abnormal, suggesting an infection.

  • Keeping the genital area clean and dry and not using products that can irritate it can help.

  • Sometimes a mild corticosteroid cream relieves itching temporarily.

  • If a vaginal infection causes itching and a discharge, women are treated with antibiotics or antifungal drugs taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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