Sexual Health: Genital Itching

Overview

What are itchy genitals?

If you feel the need to scratch your skin, you’re likely experiencing itchiness. Itchiness is an uncomfortable irritation you may feel on your genitals, or any other area of your skin. It is likely that everyone has felt an itch in their genitals, but if that itch doesn’t go away and interferes with your quality of life, then you may need to see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.

Females and males with itchy genitals may be experiencing one or more of the following conditions, including:

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis).
  • Dermatitis.
  • Psoriasis.
  • Lichen sclerosus.
  • Skin irritation from sweating.
  • Skin irritation from tight clothing.
  • Skin irritation from personal hygiene products such as soap and detergent.

Conditions that cause vaginal itch exclusively in females include:

Conditions that cause genital itch exclusively in males include:

  • Jock itch.

Who is at risk for getting itchy genitals?

Both males and females of all ages are at risk for getting itchy genitals.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes itchy genitals?

Itchy genitals can be a symptom of many conditions. These may include vaginal infections in females or jock itch in males. In either sex, itching can be caused by skin irritation, sexually transmitted diseases and allergies.

In many cases, itchy genitals caused by irritation will clear up on its own if the irritants (lotions or soaps for example) are removed. Other causes of itching may require more intensive treatment. If you are concerned about itchiness in your genitals that does not go away, talk to your healthcare provider.

What aggravates itchy genitals?

Sweating, tight clothing and substances like soap and detergent can aggravate itchy genitals caused by a skin condition.

Are itchy genitals a sign of a STD (sexually transmitted disease)?

Itchy genitals in a woman can be caused by trichomoniasis, a type of sexually transmitted disease. Genital herpes can also cause itchiness.

Diagnosis and Tests

What tests are done to diagnose itchy genitals?

Itchy genitals are a self-reported symptom of various conditions and infections. Your healthcare provider may have to examine your skin for the following:

  • Color of your skin (red, white, brown).
  • A change in texture of your skin (thickening).
  • Surface abnormalities (dryness, scales).

Your healthcare provider may need to confirm a diagnosis by taking a scraping of your skin, or performing a biopsy.

What questions might my healthcare provider ask to diagnose itchy genitals?

  • Where is your itch located?
  • How often do you need to scratch?
  • Are you able to stop scratching?
  • How bad is your itchiness?
  • Does it keep you awake at night?

Try not to scratch! In some cases, the more you scratch the itchier the skin gets. You might also tear your skin, causing bleeding, soreness and/or burning. Torn skin can sometimes become infected.

Management and Treatment

How are itchy genitals treated? What medicines may relieve itchy genitals?

The treatment for your itchy genitals depends on the cause. If you have eczema, your healthcare provider may prescribe steroid creams. Lichen sclerosus responds to phototherapy (light therapy). Antifungal medications are often prescribed for jock itch. Your healthcare provider will diagnose you and recommend the best treatment.

Who will treat my itchy genitals?

Itchy genitals can be treated by your primary healthcare provider. However, if your skin condition is severe, you might want to get a referral to a dermatologist, a healthcare provider who specializes in skin.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of itchy genitals?

Females should take the following steps to help avoid itchy genitals:

  • After urination or bowel movements, wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from the anus (rectum) entering your vagina.
  • Avoid chemical products such as vaginal douches or feminine hygiene sprays, which can upset the acidic balance of your vagina.
  • Avoid the use of excessive amounts of laundry detergent in the washing machine.
  • Stay away from over-the-counter itch blockers, as these products can make the itching worse in the long term.
  • If you suspect a lubricant might be worsening the itching, talk to your healthcare provider about the best options.
  • Avoid trauma to the area, such as excessive shaving and scratching.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet to maintain healthy bacteria in the vagina.

Males should take the following steps to help avoid itchy genitals:

  • Wash your penis well, including the area under the foreskin in uncircumcised men.
  • If you sweat throughout the day, consider changing your underwear frequently.

Both males and females should take the following steps to help prevent itchy genitals:

  • Keep your genital area clean and dry. Use mild soap, or better yet, avoid soap completely, and rinse well with water. Avoid over-cleaning the area.
  • Wear loose, natural-fiber underwear and clothing. Change your underwear at least every 24 hours.
  • Dry off thoroughly after bathing and swimming. Avoid staying in wet clothing for long periods of time.
  • Avoid unprotected sex, especially if you are worried that you or your partner might have an infection.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long will I have itchy genitals?

The prognosis depends on what’s causing the itch.

Psoriasis, for example, has no cure. However, the symptoms can be managed. Trichomoniasis is curable. With treatment, it can clear up in about a week. Ask your healthcare provider about a timeline based on your diagnosis.

Can itchy genitals go away on their own?

Yes, but if the itch gets worse or lasts for a long time, you should be evaluated by your healthcare provider. You might have a mild skin irritation, or it might be something more serious such as a sexually transmitted disease.

Living With

Can I live a normal life with itchy genitals?

Yes. Itchy genitals shouldn’t keep you from living your normal life. If it does, then you should seek treatment right away from your healthcare provider.

How do I take care of myself?

There are a number of ways you can take care of your itchy genitals. Examples include:

  • Don’t wear tight clothing.
  • Take medications as directed.
  • Shower quickly after sweating.
  • Avoid soaps and detergents that aggravate your skin.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plan.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider about your itchy genitals if they last for a long time and affect your quality of life.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about itchy genitals?

  • What’s causing my itchy genitals?
  • What’s the best treatment?
  • Are there any over-the-counter products I should use?
  • What can I do at home to manage my itchy genitals?
  • How can I prevent itchy genitals?
  • What products should I avoid?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You don’t have to just live with itchy genitals. There are effective treatments to relieve or even eliminate your symptoms. See your healthcare provider for help and be sure to take your medications as directed. Itchy genitals shouldn’t interfere with your quality of life. Do your best not to scratch so that you don’t make your itchiness worse!

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/07/2021.

References

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease. Genital Itch in Women. (https://www.issvd.org/genital-itch-in-women/) Accessed 1/3/2021.
  • DermNet New Zealand Trust. Itchy Vulva (Pruritus Vulvae). (http://www.dermnetnz.org/site-age-specific/pruritus-vulvae.html) Accessed 1/3/2021.
  • DermNet New Zealand Trust. Balanitis. (http://www.dermnetnz.org/site-age-specific/balanitis.html) Accessed 1/3/2021.
  • Berger TG. Dermatologic Disorders. In: Papadakis MA, McPhee SJ, Rabow MW. eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2015. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014. Accessed 1/3/2021.
  • STDCheck. What is Vaginal Itching? (https://www.stdcheck.com/std-symptoms-vaginal-itching.php) Accessed 1/3/2021.

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