Seriously — of all the places that can get red, ridiculously irritated and itchy on your body, your vagina has to take the prize as the absolute worst. Hello, it’s not exactly like it’s easy to scratch down there (especially with people around)!
The one thing that’s even more frustrating than having ‘ants in your pants’ in public, is not knowing why your vagina feels like it’s on fire in the first place (have you caught an STD? Or…is it just a yeast infection?).
The truth is, there are about a million reasons why it feels like steel wool is permanently rubbing up against your vagina. Here are just a few reasons behind your itch — and how to remedy the situation ASAP.
1. Bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis (aka BV) is very common and caused by changes in your vaginal pH. It is very similar to a yeast infection, however, with BV your discharge will be way more watery and it usually has an odour, explains Dr Lauren Streicher, author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever.
To treat it, you can use an over-the-counter treatment like Himalaya V-Gel, which will soothe and bring down inflammation of the area. If your BV doesn’t clear up after the suggested usage time, your doctor might prescribe something stronger like an antibiotic.
2. Yeast infections
Like BV, a yeast infection is frequently the result of vaginal pH being out of whack, says ob-gyn Dr Wendy Askew. They can occur at random or following antibiotic use, sex, stress or a change in diet (and women with diabetes have a higher risk). In addition to itchiness, you may also notice curdled, white or thick discharge.
The good news is that there are effective yeast infection remedies out there. You can go ahead and use an OTC treatment, which should take care of the symptoms within a day or so. To avoid recurrent infections, Askew recommends taking a probiotic with a high bacteria count of acidophilus, which will help keep yeast in check. And FYI it’s way more common in winter than in summer!
3. Contact dermatitis
This skin irritation is caused by allergies to certain products, says ob-gyn Prof Brett Worly. You can get it from anything with perfumes or additives, including condoms and lubricants, and on top of itching, you may also notice redness, swelling and skin thickening. It can also be the result of shaving, says Askew.
If you know that you’re susceptible to vaginal irritation, use hypoallergenic hygiene products, like shampoo, fabric softeners and laundry detergents, making sure to avoid chemicals, soaps and irritating lubricants, says Worly. Even toilet paper with scents or colours can be troublemakers. Plus, you should definitely avoid shaving if you’re sensitive – and never, ever douche. The vagina is self-cleaning, so you don’t need to put anything on or in it, says Streicher.
4. Eczema or psoriasis
Yes, that’s right… you can get these genetic skin disorders ‘down there’ too. Eczema and psoriasis can cause redness and itching in the genital region, along with a patchy or rash-like appearance. If you’re diagnosed with either, a mild steroid like hydrocortisone and taking oatmeal baths can help alleviate the discomfort, says Askew. If you don’t feel relief within a week, ask your doctor about other treatment options.
5. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
We shouldn’t have to tell you this again, but unprotected sex can lead to an STI (which is why you always, always need to use protection). And a bunch of them can make your lady parts itch, including chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis and gonorrhoea. Crabs, or pubic lice, can also appear in women with hair down there. With any of these, the itching (or tingling sensation) can progress to pain and burning, says Askew.
If you experience itching along with any other common STI symptoms like burning while you pee, foul-smelling discharge, sores on your genitals and pain during sex, you should book it to your gynae to get tested ASAP. If you do test positive for an STI, your doctor will give you either injectable or oral antibiotics, or an antiviral medication in the case of herpes, says Askew.
6. Lichen sclerosus
This serious condition and cause of vulvar itching appears as white spots on the skin, says Streicher. While it can come out of nowhere, some medical professionals think hormones or an overactive immune system may have something to do with it. Lichen sclerosus needs to be diagnosed by a gynaecologist and treated with prescription medication.
What is messing with your hormones? Anytime your hormones levels change or fluctuate (like during your period, pregnancy, menopause, or while you’re taking birth control), you may experience vaginal itching. Dryness is another indicator that hormones could be to to blame for your pain. When it comes to your period, the products you use during that time of the month (like pads and panty liners) often contain fragrances or colours that can add to the discomfort. If this happens to you often, consider trying a menstrual cup or organic cotton products, which may be less irritating.
However, it may be difficult to pinpoint if your birth control prescription is what’s causing you to itch down there (sometimes the only way to know if this is the culprit is to stop or start hormonal contraception, says Worly). With any of these hormonal changes, your doctor might prescribe a hormonal cream to apply topically and you can also ask about switching pills if the itch continues to be a persistent problem.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com