Vaginal itching and discharge may occur at times in a woman’s life and while discharge may be normal, if it persists, is accompanied by itching or of an offensive odor, it should be investigated. Vaginal irritation, like discharge and itch, may be due to an infection or inflammation of the organs of the female reproductive system and usually the vulva of the vagina is also involved.
Normal vaginal discharge is often associated with a rise in the estrogen levels, around the time of ovulation, pregnancy, just before the first period in life (menarche) and may be caused by certain drugs. In these cases, the discharge is not usually considered to be a problem if there is an absence of other symptoms. However if other concomitant symptoms, like itching, burning during urination, a rash or pelvic pain, is also present, then further investigation is required.
Urinary tract and vaginal infections plague most women at some point in their life and recurrent infections are not unusual. In most of these cases, the infections are caused by bacteria although viral and yeast (candida fungus) infections may also trigger vaginal discharge and itching. If persistent itching and discharge is noted in young girls, with personality changes, the possibility of sexual abuse should be considered and further examination by a gynecologist may be necessary.
Common Causes of Vaginal Discharge & Itching
- Poor personal hygiene especially of the genitalia and surrounding areas.
- Allergic reactions to tampons, sanitary pads, toilet paper, soaps and body lotions.
- Infections, particularly bacterial like streptococcal and staphylococcal infections, trichoma, candida (vaginal thrush).
- Injury to the vagina, especially when constantly interfering with the genitals (toddlers and young children) or certain sexual practices in adult females.
Preventing Vaginal Irritation – Itch & Discharge
- Personal hygiene should always be attended to appropriately and washing the genitalia properly, maintaining grooming of the pubic hairs and proper cleaning after using the lavatory is important.
- Avoid sanitary products and bathing applications that may cause vaginal irritation. Changing the brand of the product causing the irritation may help with reducing discharge and itching. This also applies to certain brands of condoms.
- If you have noticed vaginal itch and discharge after starting certain medication, speak to your doctor about changing the type of medication if possible.
- Take note of any itching and discharge and visit your doctor immediately rather than waiting till the infection progresses further. Any discharge that appears abnormal, brown or black vaginal discharge, or foul smelling discharge, especially with a fishy odor, is an indication of an infection and you should consult with your doctor immediately.
- Do not ignore recurrent infections as further investigation may be necessary to identify causes of these repeat infections.
- If you notice pain or bleeding during sexual intercourse, or if it occurs spontaneously and is not related to your periods, then medical attention is required.
- Proper cleaning techniques and regular diaper changes in female toddlers and infants is important to prevent vaginal infections from feces or cross contamination between the anus and vagina.
Vaginal discharge and itch may be sign of a more serious pathology and should not be ignored. Apart from the possible complications of unattended infections, foul smelling vaginal discharge and persistent itching can be both embarrassing and awkward.