Genital itching and what it means about your health

Clothes hanging on a line

Genital itching has a pretty impressive array of causes, ranging from benign (irritation) to serious (STDs and diabetes). In this post, we talk about some of the main reasons for an itchy groin, and what to do if it suddenly feels like you’ve got ants in your pants.

What do you mean, ‘genital itching’?

Genital itching refers to an itchy sensation, intermittent or constant need to scratch the skin in and around the penis or vagina. The itch may be confined to the skin of the groin and pubic hair. In men, it may also affect the head and shaft of the penis, or in women, the inner and outer labia, or internally (inside the vagina). The itch may be accompanied by other symptoms of redness, flaky skin, or an unusual discharge.

I just have a yeast infection, right?

This could be the cause, yes. Yeast infections are so common that more than 75% of women will have one at some point in their life. It’s less common, but men get them too. The classic symptom is intense itchiness of the labia and vagina or penis, accompanied by redness, soreness, and a thick, white, cottage-cheese-consistency discharge that has no smell.

So can I just get some over-the-counter medicine and call it good?

It is advised that you never self-diagnose a yeast infection, even if all of the symptoms point to this being the culprit. There are two main reasons for this.

1) If you self-treat for yeast and you don’t actually have a yeast infection, you can make whatever IS going on down there worse. This is because anti-fungal medications destroy both good and bad flora in your genitals. The good flora are essential when you’re fighting an infection. So always check in with your doctor before embarking on any treatment, even when you’re suffering.

2) If you are getting recurring yeast infections, your doctor should be aware because it could be a sign of something more serious, like diabetes.

Wait. Genital itching is a sign of diabetes?

Surprisingly, yes. People with Type 2 diabetes have high levels of glucose in their blood, which can lead to recurrent yeast infections. So if you are having regular yeast issues, this is definitely something to speak to your doctor about.

Could itchiness down there mean I have an STD?

It’s not out of the question. Genital herpes and trichomoniasis are both sexually transmitted diseases that feature itchiness as one of their common symptoms. The itch of trichomoniasis (sometimes shortened to ‘trich’), an STI caused by a parasite, has similar symptoms to yeast infection, but the discharge may be green instead of white. With genital herpes, the itching begins before an outbreak of blisters, and then intensifies once they turn to sores. And it is more rare, but there’s also pubic lice (crabs) to consider…

Oh my God, I have an STD!

Not necessarily. Before assuming that you have an infection, it’s best to go to the doctor and talk to them about what’s going on. They can examine you and advise you on proper testing.

Well if it’s not yeast and it’s not an STD, what else could it be?

Have you shaved recently? If you’re noticing a sudden itch, think back to the last time you groomed. Early re-growth from shaving, and even sometimes from waxing, can cause a temporary, but intense, itchiness.

It’s definitely not that. Any other ideas?

Hormonal changes, namely a drop in estrogen levels, can cause the vagina’s mucosal lining to thin, leading to itching. This is more likely to happen if you have already experienced menopause or are experiencing other perimenopausal symptoms.

Nope… try again.

Well, it might be reassuring to know that one of the top three most common causes of itching in the genital area is skin irritation. You may be sensitive or allergic to chemicals in your washing powder, pantyliners, or other feminine hygiene products. Avoid scented soaps, sanitary towels, and liners. Change up your washing powder. And, ladies, never use feminine sprays, powders, or douches, as they disrupt your vaginal flora.

I’m pretty sporty. Could that be a factor?

Yes, there are some types of genital itching that are more likely to affect athletes. Tinea cruris (“jock itch”) is a fungal infection of the genitals and buttocks caused by hot, damp conditions (like exercising and sweating into your gym shorts frequently). People who exercise a lot are also more susceptible to yeast infections. If you’re spending a good part of your day in yoga pants, cycling shorts, or other tight, synthetic underclothes, it creates the perfect conditions for bad bacteria to breed. Consider switching to cotton underwear and loose pants to let things breathe and keep the air flowing.

Should I see the doctor?

Yes. Make an appointment to chat with a GP as soon as you notice that something is wrong. They can either reassure you immediately, recommend appropriate tests, or sort you out with suitable treatment.

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Alya Shakir

Alya has been responsible for the growth of the clinics, overseeing their expansion and development and creating policies and procedures to ensure optimum patient care and experience. Alya is the registered manager with the Care Quality Commission.

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