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Vulvar itching

Vulva is remarkable in the way it maintains a healthy balance of flora to help it work effectively and stay healthy. When it’s balanced, it works perfectly without you having to do anything about it. When this balance is upset, however, problems can arise, which can cause uncomfortable vulval itching and a variety of other symptoms.


In the majority of cases, vulval itching can be irritating, but not a cause for concern. However, if the itching is severe, persistent or if you have other symptoms, it is advisable to see a healthcare professional to get it checked out. The cause can be easily determined through examination or testing and it can also give you a clear understanding of what’s happening with your body so you can take action and feel empowered.

What Causes Vulvar Itching?

There are a number of causes that can produce vulval itching, including contact with irritants, infections, the menopause and stress. Occasionally it can indicate more serious concerns like vulval pre cancer ( VIN ) or vulval cancer . That’s why , vulval itching should not be ignored. The causes can usually be broken down into a number of categories:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • Menopause 
  • Irritants
  • Lichens
  • Vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection)
  • VIN – Pre cancer condition

This short blog post will look at each in turn to give an overview of the various symptoms to look out for, what you can do about it and the treatments available. 

Lichens

Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that affects the genital area and other parts of the body with the characteristic appearance of white spots. This affects women of all ages, but is found predominantly in women over the age of fifty. The characteristics of lichen sclerosis are patches on the skin that are:

  • Itchy
  • White
  • Smooth or crinkled
  • Bleed or hurt when scratched

 

There is no cure for lichen sclerosis, but it is possible to keep the condition under control using topical steroids or medication that can help your immune system.

Vaginal Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)

One of the most common causes of vulval itching is vaginal candidiasis, otherwise known as a yeast infection. Over 70% of women will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives, with many women experiencing more than one episode. 

Candida is a fungus that occurs naturally in the vagina and is kept under control by lactobacillus bacteria. These two have a natural balance, but when the candida is not controlled it can cause problems, which results in an overproduction of yeast. The symptoms of vaginal candidiasis are:

  • A sore, itchy and red vulva
  • A burning sensation during urination or sex 
  • Swelling of the vulva
  • A thick, white vaginal discharge that has the consistency of cottage cheese
  • A watery vaginal discharge

Vaginal candidiasis can be treated by using anti-fungal cream that you can get from your doctor, which is usually prescribed for up to three days. 

 

Vulval Pre cancer 

A significant proportion of vulval itching could be related to Pre cancer and cancer . Sometimes lesions can only be identified by your doctor who has special interest in vulval disease 

 

Bacterial Vaginosis

Your vagina has a healthy blend of bacteria that assists with its healthy functioning. When this natural balance changes, however, it can produce unpleasant symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina caused by a change to its flora, causing irritation and discharge. The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:

  • A grey-white thin and watery discharge
  • A fishy odour
  • Itching or burning sensation

Although these are the main indications of bacterial vaginosis, many women have no symptoms at all, so if you’re concerned, the best thing to do is to go and see your healthcare practitioner to get a diagnosis.

 

The causes of bacterial vaginosis are unclear. It is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) but you are more likely to develop the condition if you’re sexually active. Other factors that can increase your risk of bacterial vaginosis are:

  • Using scented products such as perfumed soaps, shower gels
  • Having an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections are another cause of vulval itching. If you think that you might have contracted an STI, it is important you see a healthcare professional urgently to avoid complications and further transmission. These include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhoea 
  • Genital warts
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Ureaplasma , Mycoplasma

 

These infections can cause vulval itching and also a variety of other symptoms. If an STI is not treated, it can cause complications and can be passed on to others. It is advisable to avoid sexual contact with others until you have been diagnosed and treated.

 

Menopause

The menopause usually starts in women over the age of 50, but this can vary widely from person to person and can sometimes start very early. The menopause has a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Mood swings
  • A dry vagina, causing itchiness
  • Reduced libido
  • Urinary problems

The menopause is a natural change in a woman’s body with symptoms that usually last for four years, but this is different for every woman, with some experiencing symptoms for up to twelve years.

 

Irritants

Your body is very sensitive to what it comes into contact with, and this is especially true for your vulva. Chemicals in washing powder, deodorants, shower gels, latex condoms and lubricants can irritate your skin, causing contact dermatitis, which creates an uncomfortable itch. Friction from wearing tight clothing or from exercising could also cause soreness and discomfort. Once the irritant has been removed, the itching usually goes away on its own, but sometimes you might need topical creams that you can get from your doctor.

 

Do Not Ignore Vulvar Itching

Vulval itching is uncomfortable and not a nice thing to have to deal with. It can also be a cause of anxiety, especially when you don’t know what’s causing it. The best thing to do is to see your healthcare practitioner. Getting professional advice will give you a clear diagnosis and treatment, and will also set your mind at rest and help you understand what’s going on with your body.

 

If you’re concerned about vulval itching or have any questions, please feel free to ring Harley Street Gynaecology on 02033 030 316 for confidential advice.