According to a leading gynaecologist, there are seven possible reasons why it would itch down there…

Having a chronic and persistent itch or burn in your vulvovaginal area is a nuisance, but could it be serious?

“I would suggest that women get itches and burns checked out. If properly diagnosed and effectively treated sooner rather than later, these ‘innocent’ itches and burns can be prevented from getting worse or leading to other conditions,” says Dr Katrien Dehaeck, a leading gynaecologist at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town who specialises in vulvovaginal health.

“Sometimes, what seems like a recurrent infection could be something else, for example, in rare situations a skin condition called lichen sclerosus can mimic a yeast infection. An itch is also easier to treat than a burn, which can be caused by a viral infection.”

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7 Reasons why it might itch down there

According to Dr Dehaeck, the seven most common causes of vulvovaginal itching and burning in women are:

1. Candida

This the most common reason for vulvovaginal itch. It can be caused by various things including stress, taking antibiotics, a weakened immune system, pregnancy or using hormonal contraceptives.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include a curd-like, thick, white vaginal discharge and swelling of the labia.

2.  Vulval & vaginal atrophy (VVA)

This is a chronic condition that affects millions of mainly older women and is often under-diagnosed.

It is caused by lower levels of oestrogen associated with menopause. Symptoms can include dryness, itching and burning around the vagina that can cause severe sexual discomfort. VVA may not get better without proper treatment.

3. Genital herpes

This is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). The HSV infection can cause painful sores and blisters on the lips, genitals and/or anus.

4. Dermatological irritations/allergies

This consists of any skin disorder that affects the vulva.

Dermatitis is generally an inflammation of the skin caused by contact with an irritant or allergen. This could be from wetness, incontinence, vigorous cleaning, or contact with perfume, rubber, etc.  Dermatological irritations can include lichen planus, psoriasis or eczema.

5. Vulvodynia

This is a chronic vulval burning sensation that has no known cause and is very difficult to treat as it doesn’t have underlying causes such as fibromyalgia. Even today, many women don’t get diagnosed and may remain isolated by the condition. It affects the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening.

6. Precancerous conditions of the vulva

This encompasses changes to the vulval cells that make them more likely to develop into cancer, if not treated.

7. Lumps, bumps and bleeding

These are symptoms that should always be checked out by your gynaecologist.

“Women often get scared that they could be something more serious, but most of them are not cancerous,” assures Dr Dehaeck.  A lump or bump could also be a Bartholin duct that’s been blocked by fluids building up in the gland.

Additional causes of itching and burning are diabetes (diabetic vulvitis), lichen sclerosus or HIV.

“If you take into account the breadth of possibilities causing vulvovaginal itching or burning, it is advisable to consult your doctor or gynaecologist for a diagnosis and effective treatment.  Don’t be embarrassed either, this is what we are here for,” says Dr Dehaeck.

Dr Katrien Dehaeck is a leading gynaecologist specialising in vulvovaginal diseases and has been in private practice at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands, Cape Town for 25 years, where she specialises in gynaecology, gynae oncology, vulvovaginal disease and paediatric gynaecology. 

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.