Vaginal Itching

Reviewed by Frank Cockerill, MD, July 21, 2017

Vaginal itching (pruritis) is an uncomfortable symptom that women can experience for a number of reasons. For women who are sexually active, oftentimes the first concern that springs to mind is that the itching could be caused by an STD. In reality, several other culprits could be to blame for the itching, such as a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (overgrowth of bacteria in the vaginal region) or an allergic response to a product such as a lubricant, douche, or a new type of soap or body wash.

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Causes of vaginal itching

Vaginal itching can be caused by a variety of conditions. Yeast infections can cause fairly intense itching with a whitish, cheese-like discharge. These infections are treated with topical or oral antifungal medications. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes irritation and itching accompanied by a thin, grey discharge and an unpleasant odor. BV can occur in women who have never been sexually active, so it is not considered an STD. BV is treated with antibiotics, which restores the "normal" balance of bacteria in the vagina. Vaginal itching can also be due to an allergic response to products used in the vaginal area, often accompanied by a rash and/or pain. Using a topical analgesic and an over-the-counter topical steroid can help reduce these symptoms, as well as avoiding the use of these products in the future.

STDs and vaginal itching

One particular STD that is often associated with vaginal itching is trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is an infection caused by a protozoan parasite, which can cause vaginal itching, inflammation, and discharge with an unpleasant odor. Trichomoniasis can be detected by a swab test, and treated with antibiotics. While a less common cause of itching, another STD that can produce vaginal itching is herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) (the virus that causes genital herpes). Herpes outbreaks are normally thought of as painful rather than itchy, but itching can also be present, especially preceding an outbreak or as the lesions are healing. Herpes does not have a cure, but the symptoms can be managed with medications.

The only way to know whether vaginal itching is caused by an STD or a non-STD process is to get tested. Going to your physician for a physical exam and medical evaluation is important any time you notice any unusual symptoms. For those who are sexually active, if you have a symptom such as vaginal itching and have never been screened for STDs, have ever had unprotected sex, or have had a new partner since your last STD test, comprehensive STD screening is recommended.

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