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What Is Genital Itching?

Itching in the genital region can result from irritation, allergy, inflammation, infection or cancer. Irritation can occur as a result of exposure to chemicals in soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, and creams. Similar chemicals can also cause allergies in some people, as can latex. In the case of irritation and allergy, avoiding exposure to the irritant or allergen may be all that is needed for the itching to resolve.

Sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes or trichomoniasis, can cause genital itching, as can other infections, such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Pubic lice, also called “crabs,” are sexually transmitted and typically cause genital itching. Scabies, which can be spread sexually or through other skin-to-skin contact, is a contagious skin disease that typically causes itching. Scabies is caused by very small mites and can affect any part of the body.

Tinea cruris, a fungal infection sometimes referred to as “jock itch” or “ringworm of the groin,” can also cause genital infection. People who have tinea cruris may also have athlete’s foot or ringworm.

Some noninfectious skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and lichen simplex chronicus, can involve the genital area. These itchy skin conditions often affect other areas of the body, as well. Other noninfectious causes of genital itching include changes associated with decreased hormone levels following menopause, as well as precancerous changes and cancers. The treatment of genital itching is highly variable depending on the cause of the itching.

Genital itching is unlikely to be part of a condition that requires emergent treatment; however, it can have several causes, some of which are easily treated and others that can ultimately lead to serious complications. If you have genital itching that lasts for a couple days or more or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What Other Symptoms Might Occur With Genital Itching?

Genital itching may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Some conditions that cause genital itching only affect the genital area, while others may involve other parts of the body.

Symptoms That May Occur Along With Genital Itching

Genital itching may accompany other symptoms affecting the genital area or skin including:

  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Increased sensitivity to irritants
  • Increased susceptibility to genital infections
  • Itchy skin in other areas of the skin
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain or burning of the genitals
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Raised, thickened red or white patches
  • Redness or swelling of the genitals
  • Sores, blisters or scabs in the affected area
  • Vaginal or penile discharge
  • Visible eggs or small insects crawling through the pubic hair

Symptoms That Might Indicate A Serious Condition

In some cases, genital itching may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have genital itching along with any of these symptoms:

  • Abnormal discharge
  • Changes in appearance, color, thickness, or texture of the skin of the genitals
  • Genital bleeding
  • Itchy skin in other areas of the body
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain or burning of the genitals
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Redness or swelling of the genitals
  • Sores, blisters or scabs
  • Visible eggs or small insects crawling through the pubic hair

What Causes Genital Itching?

Itching in the genital region can result from irritation, allergy, inflammation, infection or cancer. Many of the infections that can cause genital itching are contagious. Other conditions that cause genital itching are not contagious.

Infectious Causes Of Genital Itching

Genital itching may be caused by infections including:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (imbalance of bacteria in the vagina leading to overgrowth of certain types of infections)
  • Genital herpes (sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2)
  • Pubic lice (also called “crabs”; parasitic insects that live in the pubic hair)
  • Scabies (contagious skin disease caused by small mites)
  • Tinea cruris (“jock itch” or “ringworm of the groin”; fungal skin infection)
  • Trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis)
  • Yeast infection

Other Causes Of Genital Itching

Genital itching can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema
  • Atrophic vaginitis (thinning and inflammation of vaginal tissues related to a drop in estrogen levels)
  • Cancers (penile or vulvar cancers)
  • Chemical irritants, such as soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, or creams
  • Folliculitis (irritation and ingrown hairs following pubic hair shaving)
  • Lichen simplex chronicus (chronic skin condition associated with itching and scratching and thickening of the skin)
  • Precancerous changes of the skin
  • Psoriasis (itchy skin condition associated with skin irritation and redness, often with areas of thickened, red skin with white flaky patches)

Questions For Diagnosing The Cause Of Genital Itching

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your genital itching including:

  • When did you first notice your genital itching?
  • Have you changed soaps or detergents lately or started using any feminine hygiene products?
  • Have you had itching like this before?
  • Is there anything that seems to make it better or worse?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Have you been intimate with anyone who has similar symptoms?
  • Are other areas of your body affected?
  • What medications are you taking?

What Are The Potential Complications Of Genital Itching?

Because genital itching can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Tissue scarring and disfiguring skin changes
  • Secondary skin infection (infection that develops on top of the current condition, often due to scratching)
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infectious disease through close or intimate contact
  • Susceptibility to additional sexually transmitted infections

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