Common Causes of Vaginal Itching and Burning

Vaginal itching requires a doctor's evaluation.
Vaginal itching requires a doctor's evaluation. Stefano Oppo/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Have you been feeling discomfort in your nether regions? Vaginal itching and burning are signals that something is amiss in the vagina, warranting an evaluation.

There are several types of vaginal conditions that can cause itching and burning, particularly certain infections. 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 (although often there is no discharge or the discharge is thin and watery) and swelling of the labia (the lips around the vagina).

Yeast infections can sometimes be spread through sex, although it's not a sexually transmitted infection. That being said, yeast infections are more common in women who are sexually active than in women who are not. Stress, pregnancy, a weakened immune system, diabetes, and taking antibiotics or using hormonal contraceptives can also increase your chances of developing a yeast infection.

If you suspect a yeast infection but have never had one before, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Those who have repeat yeast infections may use over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams or vaginal suppository treatments. That being said, be sure to see your doctor if symptoms persist despite over-the-counter therapy.

Other Vaginal Infections 

Other vaginal infections including bacterial vaginosis (BV)trichomoniasis, genital herpes, and pubic lice may be to blame and are sometimes mistaken for a yeast infection (especially BV). 

In addition to itching, bacterial vaginosis is often accompanied by runny vaginal discharge and a fishy odor after sex.

A single-celled parasite called trichomoniasis can cause frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge, as well as itching. Neither bacterial vaginosis nor trichomoniasis can be treated with OTC products (a certain antibiotic is needed), so see your doctor if you suspect such an infection.

Another infection that may cause vaginal itching is pubic lice, also known as "crabs." These tiny insects live in the pubic hair and can be treated with either over-the-counter or prescription products.

Finally, genital herpes, which is a sexually transmitted infection like trichomoniasis and pubic lice, can cause itching and burning in the vaginal area, along with one or more fluid-filled sores on the skin. 

Vaginitis and Vaginal Skin Irritants

Vaginitis 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.

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. Bath soaps, deodorants, ointments, creams, lotions, and vaginal douches are other potential irritating culprits.

Also, women in menopause, whose lower estrogen levels can sometimes cause vaginal thinning and drying, may also find sex especially irritating to the vagina -- this condition is called vaginal atrophy. OTC vaginal creams that increase lubrication during sex may help.this condition is called vaginal atrophy. 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.

Diagnosing Your Vaginal Itch

It's true that some women are able to self-diagnose their yeast infections, for example, because they have had one or more before. Often those women are able to treat their infection with an over-the-counter anti-fungal medication. That being said, it really is in a woman's best interest to see her doctor. Sometimes, what seems like a recurrent infection is actually something else.

For instance, rarely, a skin condition called lichen sclerosis can mimic that of a yeast infection that can cause itchy, white patches on the vulva (the outer part of the vagina). 

A Word From Verywell

Considering the breadth of possibilities, if you do experience itching or burning of the vagina, you should call your doctor for testing, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment. Don't be embarrassed either -- this is what your doctor is there for. 

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. (2013). Vaginal Pain With Intercourse: Seminal Fluid Allergy? 

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

Pappas PG 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. (2016). Approach to women with symptoms of vaginitis. In: UpToDate, Barbieri RL, (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. 

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

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