Despite no one talking about it, vaginal itch is extremely common and most women experience it at some stage.
For some reason discussing itches “down there” is still taboo and embarrassing, so women often fail to get to the bottom of what is causing their discomfort.
Dr Jill Forer, Sydney-based GP and female health specialist, says that vaginal itch makes women feel vulnerable and the intimate nature of the ailment causes them to hold off on seeking help.
Dr Forer notes that when her patients complain of vaginal itch, they may be referring to the actual vagina or the surrounding areas, which include the vulva and perineum, often spreading to anal areas that are close by.
She also notes that when diagnosing vaginal itch, there needs to be an in-depth medical history taken from the patient, to help make an accurate diagnosis.
Dr Forer reveals five reasons why you might be feeling uncomfortable:
Thrush or candida is a well-known yeast infection, but Dr Forer reveals that thrush can also occur in surrounding skin without any of the signature cottage cheese-like discharge.
“Treatments are varied and depend on the severity of the infection,” she explains. “They include pessaries (vaginal tablets), oral tablets, creams, douches, salt baths and cool compress.”
Dr Forer says that other infections like genital warts or herpes can also cause itchiness and require good medical consultation - and remember it’s wise to have your partner treated, too.
Another infection to consider is bacterial vaginosis, which has varied symptoms.
“Bacterial vaginosis is caused when the vaginal flora (bacterial population) change from the usual lactobacillus to many other types of bacteria – the vagina becomes less acidic,” Dr Forer tells.
Then there are parasitic infections to consider such as lice and scabies. Dr Forer says they are easily treated if found early and can be both sexually transmitted and passed along via clothing, bedding and towels.
In some rare cases, Dr Forer reveals that females can be allergic to seminal fluid.
But more likely, if you’re finding you’re irritated after getting intimate, she suggests that either an allergy to lubricant or the latex used in condoms could be the cuplrit.
“Any skin condition that can occur anywhere on the body, can also occur on the perineum or vulva,” Dr Forer says.
That means itchy skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and skin thickening conditions like lichen planus and lichen sclerosis, can all be happening on your nether regions.
Dr Forer says that eczema can often be a result of contact with beauty products, hygiene products or clothing. Sometimes even tampons can cause an allergic reaction.
While it may be difficult to narrow down the cause of dermatological conditions, it’s practical to conduct a process of elimination of potentially irritating items.
While Brazilian waxes are all the rage, Dr Forer says that this common beauty procedure can actually cause nerve damage and result in chronic pain.
In terms of itching, removing pubic hair means that the skin is less protected from the outside world and can cause a predisposition to the vulva and perineal area to problems.
Additionally, shaving isn’t all that great either. “Shaving often results in Staph folliculitis, which causes itch and pain and antibiotics may have to be used,” Dr Forer says.
Dr Forer reveals that another irritant can be hormonal deficiency of oestrogen.
“This can cause atrophy (thinning) of the vaginal wall, resulting in increased risk of infection and sexual discomfort,” she explains. “This occurs in menopause and sometimes in younger women after they cease the oral contraceptive.”
The good news is that it’s reversible and Dr Forer says that oestrogen cream can be used as a temporary or permanent solution depending on the circumstances.