Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on August 26, 2011

I have a burning itch on my vagina. What could it be? Would douching help?

I have a burning itch on my vagina. I live in a hot tropical environment so I’m always sweating, but I do my best to stay clean by washing the area often. I’ve even stopped having sex to prevent any other problems, but that doesn’t seem to help. What could this be? Do you recommend douching?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on August 26, 2011

First, I understand how frustrated you must feel by your persistent vaginal itch. I’ll try to describe some of the possible causes of your symptoms, but to know for sure what is causing the problem, I encourage you to visit your doctor.

Vaginal itching may be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection. The only way to know your STD status for sure is to get tested for some of the most common STDs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2), hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis. In particular, a burning itch on the vagina could be a sign of syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis or pubic lice. You can find out more about STD symptoms, testing and treatment in our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Other infections like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis can also cause a burning itch on the vagina. Yeast infections are caused by a fungus and can be treated with an anti-fungal medication. And bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina, which can cause discomfort. In either case, a visit with your regular doctor is necessary for a clear diagnosis and the right medication.

An itch on or around the vaginal area could also be tinea, a fungal infection of the skin, also sometimes known as “jock itch.” Tinea is the same fungus that causes so-called “athlete’s foot”...although it’s not common in women, it can happen to people who sweat a lot. If you’re diagnosed with tinea, your doctor can prescribe anti-fungal (not antibiotic) medication for the affected area.

Vaginal itching may also indicate a skin problem, like psoriasis or dermatitis. Believe it or not, you can develop vaginal itching by washing it too much. Some people are allergic to the ingredients and scents in soap.

Related, I don’t recommend douching. The vagina is very effective at cleaning itself and douching can actually cause problems. For example, douching increases your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and bacterial vaginosis. Douching may also remove some of the body’s natural protection against other STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

In summary, the itch on your vagina could indicate one of several conditions...that’s why I encourage you again to get tested for STDs, and to see your doctor to identify the root cause of your discomfort. You can also find more information about STD prevention, symptoms, testing and treatment in our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Thanks for writing, and I hope you and your doctor can resolve the cause of your symptoms soon.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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