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That Itch You Just Cannot Scratch: Vaginal Itching

It’s not exactly acceptable to post a picture of an itch in a woman’s personal places. This wool sweater will do. Like the wooliest of wool sweaters, vaginal itch can be distracting, and very uncomfortable. Often women don’t know how they got to be so itchy, nor do they know how to improve these symptoms. Here are some key facts about vaginitis, or vaginal itching:

  1. Ivy, possibly poison Ivy. Itchy
    Ivy, possibly poison Ivy. Can you tell? Are you itching yet?

    Everything that itches is not yeast. You would be surprised how often yeast infections are blamed for personal itch but are not the actual culprit. If you want to try something before heading in to see your gynecologist, try a 3 or 7 day over-the-counter yeast medication. If no relief, further evaluation is warranted.

  2. Sexually transmitted infections can sometimes itch as well. Don’t overlook that possibility if you could be at risk (and by “at risk” I mean if you are having sex at all.) Check out my previous post about STIs.
  3. Contact is often key. Avoid “fancy” things. If you are being exposed to fragrance in soaps, detergents, perfumes or even fabric softener down there, you are at risk for skin irritation. The thinner skin of the vulva is often much more susceptible to inflammation. Wash your delicates (undergarments) and your other delicates (vagina) with hypoallergenic and fragrance free products. Stick with cotton underwear and watch those dryer sheets too.
  4. Pregnancy often leads to more discharge, which can increase moisture and lead to more itching or irritation. It’s best to check with your doctor if you think there may be an infection in play because I personally try to be more conservative with medication in pregnancy if I don’t have a definite diagnosis.
  5. It is not always an infection or an exposure. Skin syndromes, some of which include precancerous changes on the skin of the vulva, can manifest as itching. This is yet another reason why paying your gynecologist a visit is important if this nagging irritation won’t go away.

So how did ancient women take care of yeast and similar infections without pharmacies? I imagine cave women in cute leaf skirts doing the itch dance as they gathered dinner. My favorite non-antibiotic remedies are:

  • Barrier skin healing ointment. Petroleum based ones like Aquaphor or A&D ointments work well. A&D has a very characteristic smell, FYI.
  • Probiotics: Check out our previous post which includes the types of probiotics that have evidence supporting their effectiveness.
  • There are countless homeopathic remedies for vaginitis, but my favorites are boric acid suppositories. It sounds a little aggressive. After all, why would someone willingly put a capsule of acid in their vagina? Well lactic acid is what is produced by lactobacillus acidophilus, which is a normal and welcome resident of a healthy vagina, so there. 200 Pharmacy does a lot of boric acid compounding for my patients.
  • Loose a few pounds: There are multiple ways that obesity and excess weight can contribute to increased prevalence of vaginitis. Even a 5 or 10% reduction in weight can improve every aspect of health, including vaginal comfort.
  • Bread that looks like a vagina
    Bread that looks surprisingly vagina-like

    Decrease your sugar intake. While diabetes can be a concern if you are experiencing frequent yeast infections, many of my patients with these symptoms don’t have diabetes. Even a non-diabetic woman can often find that she will have less yeast and irritation if she avoids refined sugars like white breads, pastas and, well, sugar.

Penn State has a great, comprehensive page about medical and homeopathic remedies for vaginitis. There are many ways to approach discomfort in the nether regions. If you are willing to try a couple of D.I.Y.ers, have at it. If you need Gyne assistance, put in that call. What I wouldn’t do is just itch indefinitely. I have always said every woman in entitled to periodic weirdness. We can’t always explain why our bodies do what they do. If it doesn’t go away, though, no need to suffer in silence.

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Wool socks compared to vaginal itch
Funny, one of my colleagues used to say the vagina is like a sock when it comes to prolapse. You can repair a hole, but it’s likely to get a new hole overtime in a different place. Why not end this post with wool socks. For the record, I don’t think the sock-vagina comparison is very flattering. Not my favorite reference, but it works.

Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald is a board certified OBGYN. She began practicing medicine in 2007 and now uses her extensive knowledge and growing following to increase health awareness in a fun and viral way. She is the founder of The Gyneco-blogic and an author of numerous books for adult and childhood health education and social growth. For more, check me, I mean her out at dreverywoman.com

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