Causes of Vaginal Itching With No Discharge

And when you should see a doctor

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Vaginal itching is a signal that something is amiss in the vagina, and depending on the cause, it may warrant a trip to the doctor. Abnormal discharge is always a warning sign, but plenty of the conditions that cause itching don't cause changes in discharge—so how do you know when it's serious and when it's not? Knowing the symptoms and causes of vaginal itch without abnormal discharge is a good place to start.

common causes of vaginal itching and burning

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Causes of Vaginal Itching

Vaginal itching without an accompanying discharge can be caused by several things. Some of them need medical treatment, but others are fairly minor passing occurrences, and you have options for stopping or preventing the itch. Causes of vaginal itching that don't include discharge include:

  • Sweating
  • Razor burn
  • Eczema
  • Pubic lice
  • Genital herpes
  • Lichen sclerosis

Vagina or Vulva?

While many people use "vagina" as a term for the entire female genitalia, the vagina is actually just the internal part. The external genitalia is called the vulva, and it contains the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, clitoris, and openings of the urethra and vagina. Much of what's called "vaginal itch" is technically "vulvar itch."

Sweating

Everyone sweats in their genital region from time to time. The sweat glands there are the same type as in your armpit (apocrine glands), and they produce a thicker sweat than glands elsewhere in your body (eccrine glands). When a protein from that sweat interacts with bacteria on your skin, it can cause an unpleasant odor.

As the sweat dries, it can also make your groin and vulva itchy. If this is the cause of your itch, it should go away when you bathe or shower. You can also take steps to prevent it:

  • Wear breathable materials, like cotton, when you know you'll be sweating.
  • Wear moisture-wicking underwear designed for exercising.
  • Shower and put on clean clothes as soon as you can.
  • Keep at least some pubic hair—it carries moisture away from the skin.
  • Use feminine hygiene wipes.
  • Lose weight, if you're overweight.
  • Avoid pads or pantyliners, or change them frequently.
  • Use moisture-absorbing powders or creams, such as those that contain corn starch.

Any kind of scented product—be it a pantyliner, antiperspirant/deodorant, or feminine hygiene spray—can irritate the sensitive tissues of your vulva and make itching worse. If you want to use a product that eliminates or prevents sweating and odor, look for unscented products made specifically for that area of the body.

Razor Burn

Just as it can in other areas, shaving your pubic region can cause razor burn, also called shaving rash. You may notice that the skin is swollen and red with itchy bumps that are sensitive when touched. This happens because the razor can remove the top layer of skin, allowing bacteria to invade.

You can prevent razor burn by using a razor that's clean and sharp, and more blades are better than fewer. In addition:

  • Moisturize the skin before and after shaving.
  • Take a hot shower or put a warm washcloth on the area before shaving.
  • Use a shaving cream or gel so the razor can glide smoothly over your skin.
  • Shave in the direction of hair growth only.
  • Rinse with cold water or apply a cold compress after shaving.

When you have razor burn, try to avoid irritating the skin. If the itch is severe, you may find relief with:

  • A cool or warm compress
  • A warm bath, possibly with oatmeal for extra soothing
  • Loose-fitting, breathable fabrics like cotton
  • Aloe vera gel

Eczema

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes redness and itching. Female genital eczema is an umbrella term for several types of the itchy condition that can affect your vulva or between the cheeks of your buttocks. They include:

  • Atopic eczema: Caused by a dysfunctional immune system, this condition involves dry, itch-prone skin and rashes; rashes may appear red on light skin and purple, brown, or gray on darker skin.
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis: This chronic form of eczema can clear up and flare for years. It may be caused by an abnormal reaction to a type of yeast that lives on your skin.
  • Allergic contact eczema: A day or two after exposure to an allergen, the skin can experience an inflammatory reaction that causes an itchy rash. Common triggers include poison ivy, nickel, and fragrances.
  • Irritant contact eczema: Irritating substances such as solvents, soaps, nickel, wool, or some ingredients in beauty products may damage skin cells and trigger an immune system reaction. That may lead to itching, burning, or blistering that can be severe enough to impair sleep or concentration.

Topical corticosteroids are a common treatment for many types of eczema. However, it's important that you see a doctor and not try to self-diagnose skin conditions. The wrong product may irritate the skin and lead to further problems.

A healthy lifestyle, including plenty of sleep and keeping stress low, can help alleviate symptoms of eczema.

Pubic Lice

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) that may cause vaginal itching is pubic lice, also known as "crabs." These tiny parasitic insects live in pubic hair and, less commonly, other body hair (e.g., chest, beard, eyebrows) and live on your blood. It's most common to get them through direct contact between your pubic hair and that of someone who has them. It's rare but possible to pick them up from bedding or clothing that you may share with an infected person.

Pubic lice generally live on the mons pubis, which is the fleshy area at the top of the vulva where most of your pubic hair is. Itching may be your only clue that they're there unless you look very close, and then you may see the tan or grayish lice on your pubic hair or skin or see their yellow or white eggs attached to the hair.

Other than the itching, you shouldn't experience any symptoms because of the lice, and they aren't otherwise harmful. You can get rid of pubic lice with:

  • Over-the-counter or prescription products, including lotions, shampoos, gels, mousses, and oral medications
  • A fine-toothed comb to remove eggs (called nits) from your pubic hair
  • For a mild case, just your fingernails

You'll also need to machine-wash and dry any clothes, bedding, or towels that you used over the previous two or three days to kill anything still living on them.

While it may seem like shaving your pubic hair would be a good way to get rid of these parasites, it only gets rid of the eggs and the lice will just crawl to the first body hair they can find. If you do want to shave to make sure all the nits are gone, experts recommend waiting until after treatments have killed all the lice.

You may have itching for a while after the lice are gone. Try to avoid scratching, as you could damage your skin and develop an infection. If you notice redness or swelling in places where you've scratched, they could be a sign of infection. Be sure to see your doctor for that.

The only way to prevent pubic lice is by not having sex or other close contact with anyone who has them.

Any time you find out you have a sexually transmitted infection, you should contact all recent sexual partners and refrain from sex until you've received treatment.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes, another STI, is a common cause of genital itching. It's most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) but can also be caused by the virus that causes oral herpes, which is HSV type 1 (HSV-1). About 12% of the American population between ages 14 and 49 test positive for HSV-2, which is incurable. 

Many cases of genital herpes are asymptomatic or have mild, infrequent symptoms. When it's experienced, the primary symptom is small, painful sores or blisters on the genitals and/or anus. They can be on the vulva or perineum (space between the vaginal and anal openings) as well as inside the vagina and even on the cervix (which connects the vagina to the uterus). When sores are present, it's called an outbreak.

Other possible symptoms you may experience during an outbreak include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands in your throat, underarms, and pelvic areas

You can catch genital herpes by having unprotected genital contact with the genitals, anus, or lips of someone who has it. A condom can provide significant—but not total—protection. The condition can be managed with antiviral medications (which also can help prevent it from spreading), over-the-counter pain medications, and cool compresses on the sores.

Lichen Sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a chronic skin condition that makes the skin thin, pale, and wrinkly. It usually affects the genitalia and anus but also can strike the chest and arms. It's most common in women over age 50 and pre-pubescent girls.

The cause isn't known, but it may be an autoimmune disease and/or related to hormonal balance, especially involving estrogen. It's not always symptomatic but can include:

  • Intense itching of the vulva
  • Itching, pain, or bleeding of the anus, especially with bowel movements
  • Pain during vaginal penetration
  • Difficulty and/or pain with urination
  • Blisters
  • Easy bruising, tearing, and bleeding
  • Sores in a "figure 8" pattern around the vulva and anus

Lichen sclerosis usually relapses and remits (comes and goes) and can cause permanent scars, and it usually gets worse over time if it's not properly treated. It can't be cured, so treatment is aimed at alleviating symptoms. Standard treatment includes:

When to See a Doctor

If you have vaginal or vulvar itching without abnormal discharge that lasts more than a few days, you should see your doctor. What appears to be a minor problem like razor burn may be something more serious, such as genital herpes. Using the wrong treatment may further irritate your skin and lead to even more discomfort.

If your itching is accompanied by abnormal discharge or pelvic pain, see your doctor right away.

Treatment for Itching

Itching that won't go away can be a big distraction and detract significantly from your quality of life. While different causes of itchiness can require different treatments, general treatments for an irritating itch include:

  • Cold compresses or ice packs for 5-10 minutes at a time
  • An oatmeal bath
  • Moisturizer, especially if it's additive- and fragrance-free
  • Topical anesthetics containing pramoxine
  • Topical treatments containing menthol or calamine

And as hard as it is, try not to scratch.

Prevention

Preventing vaginal and vulvar itching means protecting your skin and vaginal health.

Skincare

Good skincare can help prevent a lot of itching, especially due to dry skin. Dermotologists recommend that you:

  • Take short baths or showers (10 minutes) in lukewarm water
  • Use fragrance-free skincare products
  • Wear loose clothing made from breathable fabrics
  • Keep your house relatively cool and, if you're prone to dry skin and eczema, use a humidifier in the winter

Vaginal Health

Good genital health can also help prevent itching and other problems. Your vagina is healthiest when it has the right balance of bacteria, called vaginal flora. When you have the right amount of good bacteria, it keeps the environment slightly acidic, which keeps the bad bacteria from getting out of control.

A lot of things can disrupt that balance, including:

  • Antibiotics
  • Vaginal lubricants
  • Feminine hygiene sprays and deodorants
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Fragrances
  • Dyes in clothing
  • Douching
  • Birth control devices
  • Pregnancy
  • Restrictive clothing

You can take steps to maintain good vaginal and vulvar health, such as:

  • Wash the area with water only or with a gentle soap (harsh soaps can upset the pH balance).
  • Don't use soap around the vaginal or urethral opening.
  • Clean between the labia majora and labia minora (inner and outer lips).
  • Try to keep the area as cool and dry as possible.
  • Use cotton underwear.
  • Don't stay in wet swimsuits or sweaty workout clothing any longer than necessary.
  • Use small amounts of gentle laundry detergent and double-rinse your underwear.
  • Use pads and pantyliners only during your period.
  • Change tampons frequently.
  • After bowel movements, wipe front-to-back.
  • Shower regularly.
  • Don't use anything fragranced down there.
  • Use vaginal lubricants to reduce friction during penetrative sex.
  • Use condoms during penetrative sex.
  • Change condoms when changing the area of penetration (switching between oral, vaginal, or anal).

A Word From Verywell

Vaginal, vulvar, and anal itching are topics you might be uncomfortable bringing up with your doctor. Given the seriousness of some conditions that can cause that itching, though, it's important for you to overcome your embarrassment and get it checked. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment can bring you relief and peace of mind.

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Article Sources
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