Vaginal pain is a common problem that can be caused by a variety of things. Describe your symptoms to your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Vaginitis (or vulvovaginitis) is inflammation of the vagina or vulva, the external female genitals. It can be painful, itchy or a combination of both.

It could be an infection

There’s a whole lot that can go wrong in the vulva and vagina. Symptoms range from itching, pain and discharge to a lump in the vulva or labia (vaginal lips). Many infections that can affect the vulva and vagina can also cause infection of the urethra (the tube that leads to the bladder), which is called cystitis.

Viruses and bacteria are common causes of vaginitis. Sexually transmitted infections like herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to vaginal and/or vulva symptoms and may require treatment with antibiotics. Yeast infections, which are caused by a type of fungus called candida, can also cause itching in the vulva and labia, along with a white cottage cheese-like discharge.

If you have a rash, itching or redness in the genital area that doesn’t clear up with home care, see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can test you for sexually transmitted infections and recommend appropriate treatment.

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Irritation to the vulva and vagina can be caused by many things, including irritants from creams, sprays or detergents used in the intimate area. It’s best to only use products that are designed for use in the vulva, such as toilet paper without perfume and wash sheets, towels and underwear that come into contact with the vulva in unscented laundry detergent. Also, try to avoid douching and steaming as these can disrupt the complex bacterial interactions that create your natural pH balance in the vulva.

It could be an allergic reaction

There are a range of infections that can affect your vulva and vagina. Some, like candida (also called thrush), cause inflammation, swelling and itchiness and have a cottage cheese-like, white discharge. Others, like bacterial vaginosis (BV) have a watery white or green/grey discharge with a strong fishy odour and vulval pain. If you think you have an infection, see your GP for a proper diagnosis rather than trying over-the-counter medications.

Other reasons for pain and itching may include an allergic reaction to feminine hygiene sprays, douches, spermicides or other products, or irritation from tight clothing, including g-strings and pantyhose. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause can also be a cause of itching and soreness in the vulva.

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Pain and itching in the vulva may also be due to sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), cysts or a tumour. This can be serious so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis and talk about your symptoms with your doctor. They may recommend a pelvic exam and blood tests to rule out serious problems. Then they can recommend treatment options and help you find a way to manage your symptoms. If you’re not sure whether you have a STI, you should see your doctor right away to get tested and treated if needed. The earlier you find out what’s causing your symptoms, the sooner they’ll go away.

It could be an imbalance

A sensitive vulva isn’t always a sign of something serious, but rather, an imbalance. Your vulva is made up of a network of nerves, and like the skin under your eyes, it has a different baseline than what’s considered normal. So, it’s important to be aware of what you put into and on your body, including things like lube, soaps, washing powder, shower gel, or even the kind of fabric you wear. Using too much lube or having too many sex without condoms can affect the pH balance of your vagina and lead to an uncomfortable feeling down there.

So, be sure to consult with your doctor if this is the case!

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It could be a change in your body

The vulva (the external skin of your genitals) has a whole network of nerves. So, it’s not surprising that the area can get irritated easily by things that we don’t even think of as being a problem for our sensitive areas: bubble bath, shower gel, soap, scented laundry detergent and fabric softeners. It can also be irritated by some feminine products and wipes, douches, spermicidal sprays, perfumed lotions and sexual lubricants. Those chemicals and fragrances irritate the vulva, which can lead to vaginitis or inflammation of the vaginal walls.

Symptoms of vaginitis can include pain, discharge, odor or itching. The condition can be caused by an infection or by changes in hormone levels, including a drop in the level of estrogen that is produced in the body. The three most common causes of vaginitis are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. These are not contagious and can be treated at home. Yeast and bacterial infections can also be a sign of sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes, chlamydia and HPV, which are spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.

A doctor can examine your vulva to check for an infection or imbalance. They will use a smooth, tube-shaped tool called a speculum to hold your vagina open. They may also wipe inside your vulva with a cotton swab. If you have a problem, they can prescribe antibiotics and other treatment.