Common Causes of Vaginal Itching and Burning

What Might Be Amiss & What You Can Do About It

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Have you been feeling discomfort in your nether regions? As vaginal itching and burning are not normal effects of sexual intercourse, they can be signals that something is amiss in the vagina. There are several types of vaginal conditions that can cause itching and burning, particularly certain infections, although not all of them are linked to sex. Here are some of the most common ones below:

Yeast Infections

Itching and burning are two of many possible symptoms of a yeast infection (also known as candidiasis), and the infection itself is quite common. Other symptoms of a yeast infection include a curd-like, thick, white vaginal discharge and swelling of the labia (the lips around the vagina).

Yeast infections can sometimes be spread through sex, but not always. If you suspect a yeast infection but have never had one before, see your doctor. Those who have repeat yeast infections may use over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams or vaginal suppository treatments.

Trichomoniasis

A single-celled parasite that can also live in men's prostate glands, trichomoniasis can cause frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge, as well as itching. It cannot be treated with OTC products, so see your doctor if you suspect trichomoniasis is causing your symptoms.

Vaginitis

This is a nonspecific term that refers to inflammation of the vagina.

Vaginitis can result from sexual intercourse or any other factor that disrupts the normal balance of the vagina, which contains bacteria that help cleanse the vagina and keep it naturally moist.

Vaginal Irritation

Intercourse-related factors that can cause vaginal irritation, itching, and burning include the use of cream and jelly spermicides or other vaginally inserted contraceptives, including the sponge.

Menopausal women, whose lower estrogen levels can sometimes cause vaginal thinning and drying, may also find sex especially irritating to the vagina. OTC vaginal creams that increase lubrication during sex may help.

Allergic Reactions

Much less common than infections, allergies can also cause vaginal itching and burning after sex. Women can sometimes be allergic to semen, a situation that can vary from partner to partner depending on the particular proteins contained in the seminal fluid of each. First documented in 1958 in Germany, semen allergies are difficult to track because of the private nature of the symptoms, which women may not choose to discuss with their doctors. After ruling out infection, women who suspect they are allergic to their partner's semen can try using condoms during intercourse. If her previous post-sex symptoms disappear, semen allergy is likely to be the culprit.

Condoms themselves, however, can also cause after-intercourse itching and burning in women who are allergic to latex, the natural rubber used to make most condoms.

People who are latex-sensitive often discover this through exposure during other experiences, such as medical procedures involving latex gloves. Since latex allergies can be serious, even causing life-threatening symptoms such as breathing difficulties, women with this condition are advised to use special latex-free condoms or other methods of contraception.

Considering the breadth of possibilities, if you do experience itching or burning after sexual activity, you should call your doctor for testing, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment.

Sources:

Hamilton RG. Latex allergy: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. In: UptoDate, Bochner BS, (Ed), UptoDate. 2016.

Pappas PG, Kauffman CA, Andes DR, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Candidiasis: 2016 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2016; 62:e1.

Sobel JD. Approach to women with symptoms of vaginitis. In: UptoDate, Barbieri RL, (Ed), UptoDate. 2016.

Sobel JD. Patient education: Vaginal discharge in adult women (Beyond the Basics). In: UptoDate, Barbieri RL, (Ed), UptoDate. 2016. 

"Vaginal Pain With Intercourse: Seminal Fluid Allergy?" aaaai.org. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. 2013.

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