What causes vulva itch?

Itching in the vulvar region can result from irritation, allergy, inflammation, infection or cancer. Many of the infections that can cause vulva itch are contagious. Other conditions that cause vulva itch are not contagious.

Infectious causes of vulva itch

Vulva itch may be caused by infections including:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (imbalance of bacteria in the vagina leading to overgrowth of certain types of infections)
  • Genital herpes (sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2)
  • Pubic lice (also called “crabs”; parasitic insects that live in the pubic hair)
  • Scabies (contagious skin disease caused by small mites)
  • Tinea cruris (“jock itch” or “ringworm of the groin”; fungal skin infection)
  • Trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis)
  • Yeast infection

Other causes of vulva itch

Vulva itch can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema
  • Atrophic vaginitis (thinning and inflammation of vaginal tissues related to a drop in estrogen levels)
  • Chemical irritants, such as soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, or creams
  • Lichen simplex chronicus (chronic skin condition associated with itching and scratching and thickening of the skin)
  • Precancerous changes of the vulva
  • Psoriasis (itchy skin condition associated with skin irritation and redness, often with areas of thickened, red skin with white flaky patches)
  • Vulvar cancer

Questions for diagnosing the cause of vulva itch

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your vulva itch including:

  • When did you first notice itching of your vulva?
  • Have you changed soaps or detergents lately or started using any feminine hygiene products?
  • Have you had itching like this before?
  • Is there anything that seems to make it better or worse?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Have you been intimate with anyone who has similar symptoms?
  • Are other areas of your body affected?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of vulva itch?

Because vulva itch can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Secondary skin infection (infection that develops on top of the current condition, often due to scratching)
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infectious disease to close contact or sexual partner

References:

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sexually_transmitted_diseases.cfm. Accessed May 13, 2011.

Sexually transmitted diseases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sexuallytransmitteddiseases.html. Accessed May 13, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What is vulva itch?

The vulva is the tissue that surrounds the vagina, which consists of the labia majora and minora (the outer and inner “lips”) and the clitoris. Itching of the vulva can result from irritation, allergy, inflammation, infection or cancer. Irritation and allergy can occur as a result of exposure to soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, creams, or latex. In this case, avoiding exposure to the irritant or allergen may be all that is needed for the itching to resolve.... Read more about vulva itchintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with vulva itch?

Vulva itch may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Some conditions that cause vulva itch only affect the genitals, while others may involve other parts of the body.... Read more about vulva itchsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.