Vaginal itching, burning and irritation
Vaginal itching, burning and irritation can be uncomfortable but may not always be a cause for concern.
However, these symptoms can be due to an infection, so seek medical advice if you have concerns.
What causes vaginal itching, burning, and irritation?
There are several causes of vaginal itching, burning and irritation, including:
- Bacterial vaginosis. It is normal to have a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina. But the wrong balance of bacteria growing there can lead to an infection. Besides itching, other symptoms that come with bacterial vaginosis are inflammation, burning, discharge, and a fishy-smelling odour.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, trichomoniasis and gonorrhoea can cause vaginal itching and irritation as well as other symptoms.
- Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection also known as vaginal candidiasis. About three out of every four women develop vaginal thrush at some point in their lives. Yeast infections occur when the yeast, candida, grows excessively in the vagina and vulva. Pregnancy, sexual intercourse, antibiotics and a weakened immune system can make women more likely to get vaginal thrush. As well as irritation, a yeast infection can produce a thick, white discharge.
- Menopause. The drop in oestrogen production that occurs at the end of a woman's reproductive years can cause the vaginal walls to thin and dry out. This can lead to itching and irritation. Thinning of the vaginal walls is also a problem for some women who breastfeed.
- Chemical irritants. A number of chemical substances, including creams, condoms, contraceptive foams, washing powders, soaps, scented toilet paper and fabric softeners, can irritate the vagina.
- Lichen sclerosis. This is a rare condition that causes thin white patches to form on the skin, especially around the vulva. The patches can permanently scar the vaginal area. Postmenopausal women are most likely to develop this condition.
How are vaginal itching, burning and irritation treated?
Vaginal irritation often gets better on its own. But if it continues, is severe, comes back after treatment, or you are concerned, seek medical advice. Your doctor will probably examine you and take a sample of any vaginal discharge to find the cause of the problem.
Vaginal discomfort is treated in different ways depending on what condition is causing the problem. For example:
- STIs are often treated with antibiotics.
- Vaginal thrush is treated with antifungal medicines. These can be taken orally or inserted into the vagina in the form of creams or pessaries. You can buy these medicines over-the-counter. If you have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection you should seek medical advice before taking any over-the-counter thrush medicine.
- Menopause-related itching may be treated with oestrogen cream or tablets.
- Other types of itching and irritation respond to steroid creams or lotions which reduce inflammation. A prescription-strength steroid cream can relieve the irritation of lichen sclerosis.