Why a Cold Compress May Instantly Relieve Itching “Down There”


Vaginal itching is so much more common than you’d guess, and all those who experience it firsthand know it can be quite bothersome and distracting. Not to mention, it can be all the more concerning if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, such as strange bumps on your vagina or even a vaginal rash. But what’s exactly causing itchiness on your vulva or in your vagina, you might be wondering — and what is the best way to soothe and stop the itching for good?

According to Arianna B. Sholes-Douglas, M.D., FACOG, an OB/GYN and founder of Tula Wellness, some of the most common causes of vaginal itching include a yeast infection, sexually transmitted infections and vaginitis (also known as inflammation of the vagina), likely due to decreasing estrogen level. There are also dermatological symptoms that can make you itch, such as eczema and lichen sclerosus (a condition that causes thin, white patches of skin, usually on the genital area). Sometimes, itching can also be caused by skin irritation from clothing and products you use on or near the vulva, such as menstrual pads, washes and sprays.

“Yeast is by far one of the most common [causes] in younger women,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas notes. But as women age and undergo hormonal changes, vaginal flora (the bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside the vagina) may also change, which can potentially lead to itchiness, she says.

“As we age, and estrogen levels decline, you may experience more vaginal itching and dryness that can lead to discomfort during intercourse,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas explains. “Many women in their 40s experience this and don’t realize that this is a very common symptom of perimenopause.”

So when should you see a doctor for your vaginal itching? “Patients should see healthcare providers or physicians if they have itching that does not resolve,” despite home care, or if there is swelling or pain that is not resolving, says Susan S. Khalil, M.D., an OB/GYN who serves as an obstetrics and gynecology director at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. It’s also a good idea to see a doctor “if the [itchiness] is something new that they have not encountered in the past,” she adds.

If you’re just dealing with occasional itching down there, here are the best home remedies for vaginal itching, according to medical experts.

The best home remedies for vaginal itching:

1. Try a sitz bath

Soaking in a bath can be great for self-care, but it can provide medical benefits, too. To help relieve vaginal itching and irritation, Dr. Khalil recommends taking a sitz bath — a warm, shallow bath designed to bathe the anal and genital areas, including the perineum (the area between the anus and genitals). To take a sitz bath at home, you can either buy a sitz bath kit that fits over your toilet bowl, or simply fill a clean bathtub with a couple of inches of lukewarm or cool water (avoid overly hot water). Experts at Banner Health recommend soaking in it for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently patting the area thoroughly dry.

2. Add baking soda to your bath

Beyond a simple sitz soak, taking a baking soda bath can also be an effective way to treat vaginal itching, says Dr. Khalil. Commonly used to help with skin concerns, such as eczema, baking soda baths are recommended by the National Eczema Foundation to help relieve itchiness associated with the condition. Baking soda is specifically known to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects — in fact, a 2014 Current Microbiology study showed that it kills Candida bacteria, one of the root causes of yeast infections.

“[A baking soda bath] works by changing the PH [of your vagina], which makes the environment not suited for an infection,” Dr. Khalil adds.

To draw a baking soda bath for treating vaginal itching and burning, care providers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics recommend dissolving 4 to 5 tablespoons of baking soda in the bath, and soaking 1 to 3 times a day for up to 10 minutes. If you’re specifically taking a sitz bath, it’s recommended to use 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking soda instead.

3. Apply hydrocortisone cream

Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, a steroid that is used to treat a variety of skin conditions (including eczema, rashes and allergies, among others), can be used if you’re sure you don’t have a fungal infection, such as yeast. You’ll want to apply this cream on the vulva and not inside your vagina. You’ll find it readily available in your pharmacy, including a wide range produced by Preparation H.

But if it feels like a fungal infection, see your doctor and skip this remedy. “Cortisone should not be used if you suspect a fungal infection as steroids could exacerbate the condition,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas warns.

4. Use an antifungal cream

If your itching is caused by a fungal or yeast infection in your vagina, which you’ll confirm with your doctor, you can instead use over-the-counter antifungal creams — like Clotrimazol — to treat it, Dr. Sholes-Douglas says.

Antifungal Cream

Lotrimin Antifungal Cream

Vaginal clotrimazole is typically used for three to seven days consecutively, and works by stopping the growth of fungi that cause infection. Unlike hydrocortisone cream, antifungal creams are meant to be inserted inside the vagina — though the cream can also be applied to the external skin around the outside of the vagina.

Before using antifungal cream, though, you should make sure that you do have a yeast infection. “Oftentimes women assume that the itching is yeast related and over-treat with these creams,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas adds. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), using a medication for a yeast infection, in that case, may not work — in fact, it can also cause a delay in the proper diagnosis and treatment of the actual issue.

5. Eat yogurt and probiotics

You’ve probably heard that eating food that contains probiotics, or taking probiotic supplements, can promote the growth of “healthy” bacteria in your gut — but it might be beneficial for vaginal health, too. According to materials published by the Cleveland Clinic, ongoing research suggests that there might be a possible connection between the gut microbiome and the vaginal microbiome — in fact, specific probiotics have been shown in human trials to fight bacterial infections of the vaginal and urinary tract.

“Eating yogurt and probiotics can help keep the vaginal flora in balance as it keeps the gut flora in balance,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas explains. But you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the nutrition labels. “Avoid yogurts with high sugar content — you will override the benefit with too much sugar,” she says.

Other great sources of probiotics include fermented foods and drinks like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, buttermilk, cottage cheese, kombucha and kefir (a fermented dairy drink), per the Cleveland Clinic,

6. Apply a cold compress

You’ve probably used cold compresses before to help reduce swelling on an injury or cool a fever — but they may also help relieve vaginal itching and discomfort if you have a yeast infection, according to officials at the Mayo Clinic. It is especially relieving at the first sign of itchiness as it eases discomfort until medication can take full effect. You can use an ice pack or an over-the-counter cooling pad — just make sure to wrap it in a towel or washcloth first, rather than applying it directly to your skin.

Long-Lasting Vaginal Moisturizer

Replens Long-Lasting Vaginal Moisturizer
Credit: Amazon

7. Try a vaginal moisturizer

It’s possible that your itching may be caused by vaginal dryness — a common symptom of menopause and perimenopause, notes Dr. Sholes-Douglas. In that case, applying an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer, like Replens, can help, according to materials shared by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). These medications work to increase moisture around and inside the vagina while strengthening vaginal tissues.

8. Avoid scented and other irritating hygiene products

They may smell nice or look pretty, but many women end up using a ton of what experts consider to be unnecessary products. You should avoid using perfumed bath and feminine hygiene products (like soap, bubble bath, sprays or cream) or scented or colored toilet paper, all of which can irritate your genital area, explains Dr. Khalil.

In fact, your vagina cleanses itself naturally by putting out healthy, normal vaginal discharge — so it’s really not necessary to use any sort of special soap to keep it clean. The best way to keep clean down there, according to ACOG, is simply to rinse with warm water and gently pat (not rub!) dry. Douching is not recommended unless prescribed by your doctor, as it can upset the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina.

The same goes for any menstrual products you might be using — you should avoid using anything deodorized or scented, and instead opt for 100% cotton menstrual pads, tampons or even consider period underwear.

Additionally, you’ll want to be careful of the detergent you’re using when washing your undergarments, says Dr. Khalil. Cleveland Clinic officials recommend using a mild soap and not using too much detergent for washing intimates, and avoiding fabric softeners (including dryer sheets) and detergents with enzymes.

9. Opt for cotton underwear — and don’t wear tight-fitting clothing

When it comes to your undergarments, you’ll want to avoid certain fabrics that can exacerbate your itching or discomfort — Dr. Khalil recommends sticking to underwear made of 100% cotton, which is breathable and gentle on the skin. Some synthetic materials, like nylon, can trap heat and moisture, which can create the optimal breeding ground for a yeast infection.

For the same reason, tight or restricting clothing may not be the best option if you’re experiencing vaginal itching. “Try not to wear yoga pants or tight-fitting clothing that may cause irritation,” Dr. Khalil says. She also advises not wearing pantyhose as much as possible (wear thigh-high or knee-high pantyhose instead), and also removing wet bathing suits and exercise clothing promptly, in order to keep the vulva as dry as possible.

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