DermNet NZ

Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Itchy vulva (pruritus vulvae)

Itching often affects the genital area of women, and is sometimes referred to as pruritus vulvae. It should be distinguished from vulvodynia, which refers to chronic burning symptoms.

An itchy vulva can result in a lot of distress. Women may suffer for years, and may only receive temporary relief from treatment.

There are a number of causes of itching in the vulva. These include:

Often several of these factors are present, and it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of the itch and/or rash. The doctor will need to examine the affected area and to take swabs for microbiological examination. Other areas of the skin will be examined to determine the likelihood of a more widespread skin disorder being the cause.

Skin biopsy may be necessary to determine the exact nature of the skin condition.

Patch tests are sometimes performed to see whether any contact allergy is present such as to a fragrance, medicament or other material.

What is the treatment for pruritus vulvae?

There are some general principles for all cases:

Unfortunately, allergic reactions occur quite readily when inflamed skin affects the genital area. So, avoid the temptation to try every cream in the chemist's shop.

If your specific prescribed medications do not seem helpful, sorbolene cream, petrolatum, or another simple emollient can be used. Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe, but if it seems to irritate, discontinue its use and seek advice from your doctor.

Some patients with severe itching are helped by oral antihistamines or sedative tricyclic antipressant medications, such as amitriptyline or serotonin reuptake agents such as paroxetine, taken at night. Rarely, oral gabapentin or pregabalin may be prescribed for severe itching that has failed to respond to local therapy.

Related information

Self-help books:

The V Book: A Doctor's Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health

pruritus vulvae


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If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.