Genital itching can be a symptom of many conditions which may include vaginal infections in females or jock itch in males. In either sex, itching may be caused by skin irritation, sexually transmitted diseases, and allergies.
In many cases, genital itching that is caused by irritation will clear up on its own if the irritation is removed. Other causes of itching may require more intensive treatment
What is Vaginal Itch?
Vaginal itching is a bothersome problem where the external skin of the vagina, labia and vulva becomes tingly and irritated and often leads to the desire to scratch. This is a distressing problem for many women, especially if it becomes a chronic condition, and it can cause much discomfort. Sometimes there may be nothing to see, but changes may occur depending on the cause. The skin color may be altered to red, white or brown. The surface may be dry and scaly, or wet and weeping. The texture may change as the skin thickens. This can be due to prolonged rubbing and scratching, an underlying skin condition, or both. As it becomes thicker, it itches more and so an ‘itch scratch cycle’ is set up. Although you may be able to stop yourself scratching in the day, you can also scratch when you are asleep. Continuous scratching may tear the skin and lead to slight bleeding, a burning sensation or soreness.
What Causes Vaginal Itch?
Many women immediately attribute vaginal itching to yet another bout of vaginal thrush and immediately seek over-the-counter thrush creams for relief. However, there are a number of causes for external vaginal itching, and while yeast infections are a common cause, there are many others that should be considered.
Common causes of vaginal itching include:
- Stress can increase the likelihood of developing an infection and it can make feminine itch worse or cause recurring vaginal itching.
- Yeast infections or thrush, most commonly caused by the fungal organism Candida albicans. A yeast infection is generally accompanied by white curd-like discharge and can be brought on by antibiotics, birth control pills, pregnancy, menstruation, condom use, sexual intercourse, diabetes, and a weakened immune system.
- Menopause causes a drop in estrogen, which often results in a thinning of the vaginal wall and less lubrication which can lead to vaginal itching.
- Dry Skin is a common problem. Skin needs moisture in order to stay supple, and retaining moisture becomes difficult the older you get.
- Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease and is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Different strains of Chlamydia cause genital, eye, lymph node, and respiratory infections
- Vaginitis is an inflammation or infection of the vagina and/or vulva and is often accompanied by discharge and odor. Vaginitis can be caused by a variety of other infections including bacteria, viruses and sexually transmitted diseases
- Chemical irritants, such as washing detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, scented sanitary towels, ointments, creams, douches, and contraceptive foams or gels.
Vaginal Itch in Children and Babies
Vaginal itching in babies is oftentimes a symptom of yeast diaper rash. Leaving a child in their diaper for extended periods of time, allows Candida to grow due to the warm moist environment. Rarely does the rash go beyond the edges of the diaper; however, it can make the vagina itch, especially in the folds of skin where fungus can easily inhabit.
Alternatively, vaginal itch may be caused by a reaction to soaps, dyes, or perfumes. When bathing your child, make sure you use chemical free soaps and wash their clothes in chemical free detergent.
For older children who aren’t quite aware on how to clean their bodies properly, vaginal itching may be a sign of poor wiping or toilet paper stuck in the folds of the skin of the vagina. Lastly, adolescent girls who are just starting to reach puberty may be suffering from a yeast infection; at this point it is imperative for young girls to have a clear understanding of proper hygiene.
Tips for Vaginal Itching
- Avoid bubble baths, scented sanitary towels, spermicidal gels and any other chemical irritants down below!
- Do not douche and never use soap to wash your vagina. This causes irritation and kills healthy bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to grow. Rather, wash with warm water.
- Let your vagina breathe by wearing only cotton underwear and if possible do not sleep with underwear at all until the itching has subsided.
- Avoid sex until any suspected infection has cleared. In addition, always use a condom to prevent STD infections.
- Use a natural lubricant if intercourse is painful or if you suffer from vaginal dryness.
- Young girls should learn to practice good feminine hygiene. This means washing hands before and after going to the toilet and always wiping from front to back to avoid bacteria from the rectum coming in contact with the vaginal area.
- Visit your doctor if itching persists to determine the underlying cause as some causes of vaginal itching can be serious. If left untreated certain viruses and bacteria may cause fertility complications.
- If a sexually transmitted disease is the cause, then make sure your partner is also treated. Failure to treat both with mean the infection will come back.
- Avoid excessive washing, as this will remove the protective natural oils on the vulvar skin and will dry and irritate the skin. Itching is not due to lack of hygiene. Use simple moisturising cream cleansers for washing instead of soap
- Use ‘all cotton’ sanitary pads or tampons
- Do not get too hot at night with heavy blankets or duvets, as itching will be made worse by warmth.
- Practice good hand washing habits.
- Wear clothing that is not tight or binding especially in the crotch.Wear white cotton panties and avoid wearing nylon panties or hose that decrease the airflow to the vaginal area.
- Wear a nightgown with no underwear to encourage airflow to the vagina during the night.
- Use warm bath water and do not add bubble baths or other fragrant products which can irritate the vagina and urinary tract.
- Use a bath soap for sensitive skin. Although you might think that Ivory soap is gentle, it is not! In fact, Ivory soap is one of the most drying and thereby itch causing bath soaps on the market.
What Are the Causes of Male Genital Itching?
Tinea cruris, or jock itch, typically affects adolescent or adult males. Jock itch is a fungal infection that is normally localized to the area surrounding the genitalia or inner thighs. The fungus often targets the top skin layer, although it can also infect nails and hair. Tinea cruris is similar to the type of bacteria that causes athlete’s foot. Jock itch is easily treated by anti-fungal ointments. Physicians also advise that a man suffering from jock itch shower after any physical activity, thoroughly wash all towels and linens, wear loose clothing and keep his genital region clean and dry.
Phthirus pubis, or pubic lice, normally infects adolescent males. The tiny insects, also referred to as crabs, infect the genital region and lay eggs in the pubic hair. Infection can occur from coming in contact with infected linens, towels, toilets or clothes. Pubic lice can also be transmitted through sexual activity. The lice can be removed with a single treatment of a prescription shampoo but infection can reoccur if linens and clothing are not destroyed or cleansed thoroughly with hot water.