Feeling Itchy? It Could Be a Yeast Infection

Here’s what you need to know about yeast infections, and when uncomfortable itching may have another cause.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

Updated on January 24, 2022

Some itches are just too embarrassing to scratch. But if you've ever been bothered by an irritating itch near the vagina, you know how urgent the need to scratch can be.

Quite often, the culprit is fungus. Wherever moisture and heat get trapped on the body, fungus can grow and cause uncomfortable itching. One of the most common types of intimate fungal infections in women is a yeast infection.

What's going on down there?
The human body is home to many different microorganisms, including fungi. It’s normal to have a certain number of fungi living on the human body. But when conditions favor fungi growth, such as warmth and moisture, these organisms can multiply rapidly, upsetting the healthy balance.

It is typical for fungal infections to occur in the genital area, where ideal growing conditions exist. Fungal infections also can be found on the feet, underarms, or the folds of skin below the breasts.

What to know about yeast infections
Vaginal itching that is accompanied by a white, curd-like discharge is most likely due to a yeast infection, caused by an overpopulation of the fungus Candida albicans. Statistics show that three-fourths of all women will have a yeast infection at some point in their lives, and many will have recurring infections.

If your immune system is compromised by stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, or illness, you may be more susceptible to yeast infections. If you are pregnant or are taking antibiotics, you may also be more likely to get an infection. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes, also raise the risk of yeast infections.

A yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), although in rare cases it is possible for someone to experience redness and itching after sexual contact with a partner who has a yeast infection. If this happens, both partners may need to be treated with antifungal medication.

Preventive measures to try
To prevent yeast infections—especially important if you are prone to them—follow these steps:

  • Don't use perfumed bath products or powders in the vaginal area. These can irritate sensitive skin and tissue and make them more susceptible to infection.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom to prevent yeast that normally inhabits the intestinal tract from being transferred to the vaginal area.
  • Limit antibiotic use. Take antibiotics only when prescribed by a healthcare provider, and don't take them for longer than prescribed. Some evidence suggests that eating yogurt that contains live cultures may help prevent a yeast infection from occurring when using antibiotics.
  • Treat fungal infections promptly, before they have an opportunity to spread to other areas.

Other causes of uncomfortable itching
Although they are common, fungal infections aren't the only possible cause of pelvic itching. Your skin could be irritated by sweat or tight clothing, or you could be having an allergic reaction to soaps, detergents, or spermicides. Irritation and itching could also be the result of a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis or could be a symptom of an STI such as chlamydia or genital herpes.

Genital itching may also be related to the dryness associated with menopause. In rare cases, it could be the result of an uncommon chronic skin condition called lichen sclerosus. Postmenopausal women are at higher risk of lichen sclerosus than others.

If you recognize your symptoms as a yeast infection because you have had one in the past, you may find relief with over-the-counter antifungal medications. But it’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider (HCP) if you’re experiencing symptoms and before beginning any treatment. That way, you can receive a proper diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.

Once diagnosed, your HCP can give you a treatment plan to help you retire the itch for good.

Article sources open article sources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women's Health. Vaginal yeast infections. Page last updated: April 1, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fungal Diseases. Vaginal Candidiasis. Page last reviewed: October 12, 2021.
Kontiokari T, Laitinen J, Järvi L, Pokka T, Sundqvist K, Uhari M. Dietary factors protecting women from urinary tract infection. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(3):600-604.
Cedars Sinai. Lichen Sclerosus. Accessed January 24, 2022.

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