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Why the vagina may itch

Written by Sylvester Ikhisemojie - Nigeria

Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie
The vagina is a sacred place that should be treated with respect and with kid gloves. It is a woman's most intimate possession and in the course of life undergoes many different changes. During the reproductive years, it is especially most liable to sustain some damage and this should be no surprise when it is considered as the main organ that allows a normal delivery to take place. Think, therefore, of the large mass of new lives that must somehow pass through that narrow passage, a major reason why it should be handled with care.

One of the early manifestations of this lack of adequate care for the genital area is manifested by an itchy vagina. The symptoms of such discomfort are itching and an unpleasant feeling down below. It varies a lot from the mild form of itching to the very profound type such that a sufferer may be compelled to scratch the groin so furiously that injuries might even be sustained. Young women and undergraduates have various names for this malady and these vary from "craw-craw," "sweetie" to "akwari quata". These names are very strange but they are also an attempt to hide the embarrassment associated with having the condition.

Not every woman moves around with an itchy vagina. It is nevertheless, an irritating problem which a few women would ignore while others would seek treatment for. It is important to begin to take seriously any itching in the vagina that lasts for more than two days. It should be attended to sooner if there is an associated vaginal discharge. This usually would mean that there is an added infection, usually caused by bacteria, and so there should not be a doubt of the need to have a doctor examine it and have a prescription. These are not issues for which an individual should simply go to a chemist and bug some medications across the counter but one in which it is wise to see a doctor, pharmacist or a nurse for the required advice. In most situations, it is wise to have a swab taken and analysed in a laboratory for a better kind of information that would guide the treatment. Very often, a vaginal infection leading to itching would be caused by a mixed infection.

Some women are able to manage their itch with tact and style. For others, it is so bad that all inhibitions are dispensed with and such people can be seen beside the road scratching away. Others are more circumspect and would do so behind a wall where they assume no one is looking, in a toilet or in the privacy of their cars. Others would engage in more frequent sex in the wrong assumption that the blunt end of the penis would do less physical harm but still do the scratching. These are only temporary solutions; the real basis of treatment in all cases is in determining what has led to the itching. Often times, only the labia are involved. At other times, the itching is within the vagina. In other cases, both parts of the organ are involved.

The use of perfumed or scented soaps and powders are some of the most common causes of suffering from an itchy vulva. This is known technically as pruritus vulvae. It is associated with such itching that it has to be scratched, causing some injuries as already discussed above and thus making the skin in that area vulnerable to bacterial infection. That makes it a vicious cycle of sorts, another important reason to avoid doing such practices altogether. The use of scented pant liners is similarly harmful, not to mention the uninformed practice of douching. One of the most common causes of this annoying phenomenon is the choice of the wrong fabric for the underwear. Using synthetic fabric for your underwear, such as nylon pants and other similar materials, trap moisture like sweat and secretions between the edges of the clothing and the skin. The skin then becomes vulnerable to infection which starts the itching or makes it worse.

Another cause of this problem is Candida, a yeast infection that is common in a majority of women. It is so common that it would be seen in as many as 75 per cent of all women at some point in their lives. The common causes would range from some of the issues mentioned above to pregnancy and diseases like steroid therapy and diabetes. The common feature of this infection is severe itching which is associated with a thick, white, odourless discharge. When you see this combination, it is time to see your doctor for the appropriate tests and treatment. Attempts to do self-medication, as many women in this environment engage in, often fail to resolve the issues because the experience of another woman is what is relied upon to obtain the drugs. As symptoms may be similar even in different conditions, failure and persistence become the problem.

Another common cause of vaginal itching is Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection brought about by a parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis, an organism normally found in the vagina. As a result, many women do not even know that they have it. When the pH of the vagina is altered, however, and the organism is able to grow unchecked, there is severe itching within the vagina and the labia, a burning or peppery sensation and a change in the colour of the normal vaginal discharge. In addition, the surrounding skin may become cracked and injuries around the vagina become more numerous. Bathing even with the mildest toilet soaps could then become an ordeal as the contact with the skin around there causes intense pain. A swab must be taken for laboratory analysis so as to make the required treatment accurate and useful. And because of the nature of this particular infection, it is wise to have the sexual partner or partners treated to avoid the spectre of re-infection.
Shaving is another reason that people often itch around the vagina. It may initially feel smooth, especially in the first two days after a shave. However, when the hairs begin to grow, as they must, the pruritus can become very intense. Such women need to understand their skin type as the intensity of the itching is dependent on the medium of shaving; whether it is a blade, shaving powder or a depilatory cream. If all of them would cause itching, perhaps the person can do well to simply trim the hair rather than remove it completely.

Hormones are an important predisposing factor for having an itching vagina. In the menopausal period, the reduction in the level of oestrogen circulating in the blood causes the vagina to thin out a bit. There is thus some relative vaginal dryness which would itch. This can be combated by using an oestrogen cream which is available in some pharmacies around Nigeria or the less commonly available oestrogen tablet. This will gradually help to combat the inconvenience.

One of the most common causes of vaginal itching seen in clinical practice is what is called bacterial vaginosis. This is often seen in adults as well as female children. Often, the children are poorly cared for and mostly are responsible for their own hygiene. Such young girls may wear one pant for an entire week – five days at school and perhaps the weekend – and only remember to change such pants on a Sunday because she feels all the clothes should be changed for church. It is often annoying to have to treat such children because their mothers appear with them in the clinic looking very well kept. The most important feature of this aberration is a foul-smelling discharge that is obvious to everyone around the person. A swab is mandatory here for laboratory analysis because very often, more than one bacterium is involved in this and treatment has to be precise. If you have any problem like this one, do not hide somewhere and attempt to treat it by yourself. See a doctor.

The last, but not the least, among these irritating problems is genital herpes. This is a viral infection that is often sexually transmitted. Usually, the lessions are pretty obvious and the treatment very straight-forward. Sometimes, though, the typical rashes are not that evident and any person thus suffering from an unexplained vaginal itch would need to see their doctor and have an expert examination.

Ask the doctor

Dear doctor, I am 24 years old. I have had a vaginal discharge for two years. It has a bad smell. What is the solution? Thank you. 

You probably have a bacterial infection within the vagina. This may have come about from a number of possibilities, not the least of which is an abortion considering your age. You would thus do yourself a world of good by reading the article above thoroughly and then getting to see a doctor for examination and treatment. Good luck.

Dear doctor, while cannabis sativa has medicinal value, it still remains a drug of addiction with psychic effects. Psychiatrists have documented evidence of its link with some psychiatric ailments as visits to some neuro-psychiatric centres will prove. It can be approved for medical use while restrictions are in place for other purposes.

You have simply re-emphasised the timeliness of the discussion because what your contribution amounts to is a summary of the essay that was published, where medical benefits were emphasised, as well as its recreational use as observed from the locals of Latin America and in a bold experiment in The Netherlands. Thank you all the same for your contribution.

Dear doctor, I pray the Good Lord sustains you in your good works. I have come across many complaints to you about bad breath. Please pass this information on because I know it works. Either:
(1), brush the tongue with regular toothpaste dipped in pulverised wood charcoal 
(2), gargle with saline solution. However, this treatment should not exceed one week. 
During the time of treatment, try and avoid bruising the sensitive the sensitive parts of the mouth. May God bless you abundantly. 

Amen. This solution is very interesting but I know for a fact that charcoal is not harmful. Thank you for sharing this information.

Dear doctor, I often ejaculate within minutes of having unprotected sex, but if I use a condom, I can go on for hours without any hope of ejaculating. Am I okay doctor? This explains the reason why I ignore the condom and at times, the thing even breaks. Doctor could you please recommend a better condom? Thank you, sir. 

The problem you may have is that you feel very extreme sensitivity without a condom, while using it not only diminishes the excitation experienced by your penis, but also helps you keep the organ erect because it may help you trap blood inside it, somewhat like a tourniquet. On that score, I do not see anything wrong with you as a person. I believe all condoms are similar in action. If you fail to wear it properly, it would tear no matter who the manufacturer is. As for alternatives, the people that sell such products should be able to educate you on them.

Dear doctor, I am 15 years old and have not seen my menses for some time now, which has made me think about my past. For example, I had sex with five boys. Could this be the reason why? Thank you. 

It all depends on if you were menstruating before you had your escapade with the five boys. If that is so, and depending on when you had sex with them, you could be pregnant. But if you were not menstruating before your encounter with them, there may be no problem. However, you would be so much more at peace if you go to your family doctor and complain before you engage in anything further that could maim you for life.
Dear doctor, I find your last article titled "It may be time to accept marijuana" rather misinforming and misguiding because the marijuana specie planted in Nigeria is more potent than those planted around the world, so they have more devastating effects on the customers. Hence, no one should attempt to consume or even experiment with them! Please note also that the buying and selling of the obnoxious substance called marijuana is regulated by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency cap N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and users, sellers and buyers are liable to be prosecuted at the Federal High Court, Lagos. Thank you. 

Thank you for the information. The drift of that article referred only to the medical and recreational uses of marijuana. At no time did it say it was legal to use, purchase and sell it in Nigeria. You may label it an obnoxious substance but I am almost certain that you know at least one person who takes marijuana. Its use in Nigeria is commonplace and even members of the police and the armed forces are involved in using it. Other than traffickers who are caught at the airports and on the highways around the country, how many people have been arrested by the NDLEA and prosecuted for the use of the product? Part of the problem we have in Nigeria is that people, like your humble self, see what is a crying problem in the society and take refuge in quoting elegant laws nobody wants to enforce. The potency of the Nigerian variant of marijuana, in contrast to what you claim, was not even cited by the United Nations report on the production and use of hashish; nor was Nigeria mentioned as an important grower of the product. Finally, do you mean that only the Federal High Court in Lagos tries people who are engaged in the marijuana business? If that is so, it means that Nigerian law enforcement operatives do not see it as the problem you have painted it to be.

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