This post originally appeared on Teen Vogue
Vaginal discomfort like itchiness is super common and rarely a cause for major concern, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. An irritated vagina is just that: irritating.
To find out what exactly causes itchiness in and around the vagina, we went to the experts. Keep in mind that anything that’s bothering you to a major extent should be seen by a doctor, and that the same goes for recurring issues. Getting regular OB-GYN check-ups, like your annual, and consistent testing for sexually transmitted diseases, is crucial for making sure there’s nothing greater to worry about. And getting to know your own vagina, through education and exploration on your own, will seriously help you understand what’s going on down there.
Still, here are a few common reasons your vagina may be itching.
“Most young women assume this is a yeast infection and they are usually right,” says Kyrin Dunston, MD, FACOG, an OB-GYN from Atlanta. “At one point in their lifetime at least 75 percent of females report having had an infection of this type. The technical term for this is vulvovaginal candidiasis. Many women want to know how to prevent this annoying infection. It is important to understand that candida is what is known as an opportunistic infection, meaning that this fungus is present in small amounts in a normal woman and only proliferates and causes an actual infection and symptoms when the conditions are right. Candida, like most fungi, need warmth, moisture and food to proliferate.”
Avoid infections by getting out of damp underwear as fast as possible after sports and other sweaty activity. Your best treatment option is through medication.
This one seems simple, but if you’re feeling particularly irritated, Dr. Dunston says shaving might be the culprit. Take a few weeks off and see if you feel better. You might be surprised by how much you love the new look too. You may even realize that you don’t want to shave at all anymore, especially because getting rid of pubic hair can actually lead to STDs.
An upset balance
“Vaginal discomfort such as itching and burning, and even odor, can result from an imbalance in your vaginal ecosystem,” says Botros Rizk, MD, a professor and the head of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of South Alabama. “Everyday activities like exercise, intercourse, and using douches can disrupt the normal pH of the vagina, which, in turn, upsets the balance between the friendly bacteria that help your vagina clean itself and the unfriendly bacteria that cause vaginal discomfort.”
Again, changing out of damp underwear is helpful. Avoid douches and other “cleaning” products. Let your vagina take care of itself.
One of the most common causes of vaginal discomfort, bacterial vaginosis is the result of “an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘harmful’ bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina.” Basically, the ‘bad’ bacteria increases, and the ‘good’ stuff decreases.” Probiotics are the best way to avoid this, so make Greek yogurt, kombucha, and pickled foods a part of your diet if you can—or just get your probiotics through pill form, which is totally easy to do.
“If there is no infection present the most likely cause is irritation of the vulva and vagina from chemicals in the environment,” says Dr. Dunston. “Common culprits include laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and bleach used to clean clothes. Certain toilet papers, and sanitary products, especially perfumed ones. Perfumed vaginal sprays and douches can cause this as well. Needless to say the vagina is a delicate area and chemicals and irritants need to be kept away.”
Skip products with a scent if you can, and try to use an easy, non-irritating soap when you shower. Switching out the products going on your clothes for something safer and softer might just be the trick you were looking for.
Always keep yourself up to date on tests, but if you’re experiencing ongoing irritation while sexually active, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases as soon as you can. An STD is not the end of the world, and treatment for many is easier than you think. Your best tool, however, is awareness of the problem, so don’t hesitate to find out.
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