Benign in most cases, itching of the vulva, also called vulvar pruritus, can have multiple causes and can become very disabling, even serious, if not treated quickly. The doctors on Healthlinerx take stock of the causes of this itching and the existing treatments.
What is a vulvar itch?
The vulva refers to all of the female external genitalia. Divided in two by a median cleft, or vulvar cleft, it includes the labia majora and the labia minora (or intimate lips), which protect the entrance to the vagina, as well as the clitoris, the female erectile organ, and its hood. Pruritus can occur on all these parts of the vulva, with more or less intensity depending on what is causing them. This itching can be accompanied by other symptoms such as vulvar burning, redness, tingling, localized pain or even abnormal or smelly vaginal discharge .
What causes itchy vulva?
Vulvar pruritus is usually just a symptom and can have different causes.
We often think, and rightly so, of Sexually Transmitted Infections , such as chlamydiosis or gonorrhea , in case of vulvar pruritus, but there are other pathologies that can be responsible for this itching. Here are the most common causes:
- a dermatological condition: eczema , psoriasis , or even sclero-atrophic lichen;
- an allergy ;
- a bacterial infection, such as bacterial vaginitis;
- fungal vaginitis, such as Candida albicans, the biggest cause of vaginal yeast infections;
- a parasitic infection, such as trichomoniasis or crabs ;
- a viral infection, such as genital herpes ;
- in rarer cases, cancer of the vulva.
A PH problem
The pH scale (potential hydrogen) is between 1 and 14 and divided in two by pH 7, neutral. pHs below 7 are said to be acidic, and those above 7 are said to be alkaline. The pH of the female genital mucous membranes is naturally acidic and is normally between 4 and 4.5. This acidic pH protects against the proliferation of bad bacteria and fungi. But the ph balance is sensitive to hormonal changes and external aggressions: the onset of menstruation, sexual relations, certain medications such as antibiotics or certain creams, vaginal douches, or the use of acid soaps, detergents , antiseptics, certain bubble baths or bath salts, detergents or local deodorants,
Vulva irritation can also occur after sex. It can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection, but also of vaginal dryness , vulvar lesions after intercourse, or a skin reaction to certain lubricants or to the partner’s sperm.
A hormonal change
A woman’s life is punctuated by various major hormonal changes, such as those occurring at puberty, during pregnancy or at menopause.
During pregnancy, fungal infections can be more frequent and they are accompanied by itching of the vulva. This is explained by the more acidic vaginal pH due to the increase in the level of estrogen hormones, causing changes in the vaginal flora and sometimes swelling around the lips.
Conversely, at menopause, estrogen levels decline. The vaginal mucosa then becomes thinner and drier, and therefore more fragile: this is called atrophic vulvovaginitis . On the other hand, the acidity of the vagina drops, which can increase the proliferation of vaginal pathogenic bacteria.
What are the complications related to vaginal pruritus?
Complications related to itching of the vulva depend above all on what is causing it, so it is very important to react quickly. At the local level, the main complication is related to superinfection of scratch lesions, causing infection.
What to do in case of itching of the vulva?
In the event of vaginal pruritus, it is important to quickly consult a general practitioner or a gynecologist in order to establish a diagnosis and rule out any risk of serious illness. The healthcare professional will carry out a physical examination and a mycobacteriological sample to identify the cause of the itching and thus propose an appropriate treatment, for example:
- soothing cleansers specially designed for feminine intimate hygiene;
- painkillers to relieve the pain caused by this itching.
The balance of the vaginal flora is very delicate, which is why it is essential to take care of it in order to avoid any inconvenience. Simple intimate hygiene measures can help prevent itching: discover our complete guide to taking good care of the vaginal microbiota .