Stress and Intimate Itching

It is often an expression of conditions induced or exacerbated by a lifestyle that is too stressful.

Itching is that particular condition – undoubtedly known to all – that pushes you to scratch and that immediately evokes unpleasant sensations.

Among the main causes of itching we remember certain skin disorders and pathologies such as atopic dermatitis (or eczema), which manifests itself with dry and thickened skin, and redness; urticaria, which can be of cutaneous or systemic origin (due to drugs or chemicals); fungal infections of the skin or allergic reactions, caused for example by skin contact with materials such as latex.

When it affects the intimate parts (in women it concerns the vulva, ie the external genitalia, and the vagina), itching, as well as affecting well-being and health (not only sexual), also becomes an embarrassing disorder.

It is one of the most common and annoying female problems, which can be caused by multiple factors (for example, sexually transmitted diseases, infections, irritants), but it is often an expression of conditions induced or exacerbated by a lifestyle that is too stressful.

Vaginal itching knows multiple causes, but in most cases it is due to infections (candidiasis in the head) or irritation. In the onset of these disorders, stress is often called into question, and with good reason. Some research has shown, in fact, a close link between situations of psychophysical fatigue and vaginal infections.

Lowers the defenses, disrupts the bacterial flora

Stress, physical and psychic, negatively affects the production of antibodies and the cells responsible for the body’s defenses, and also modifies the delicate balance between the “good” microorganisms of our bacterial flora (intestinal, vaginal, etc.) and the harmful ones. That is why during difficult times we are more susceptible to infections, including vaginal ones.

Candidiasis is one of those that most frequently affects women of childbearing age, but does not spare men, the elderly, and children (in the latter it usually manifests itself in the form of thrush). Classified among yeast infections, it can hardly be transmitted to the partner.

The fungus that causes it, Candida albicans, usually present in the vagina, in physiological situations is in balance with the other microorganisms present in this body district (aerobic bacteria, especially lactobacilli, which help maintain a protected environment).

If this balance is altered – as can happen during pregnancy, due to stress, diseases (such as diabetes), changes in hormone levels (for example estrogen) or following the intake of antibiotics or corticosteroids – Candida takes over, with the appearance of vaginal itching, usually very intense, sometimes burning and pain during intercourse (dyspareunia) and during urination (dysuria), swelling, irritation and whitish vaginal “discharge”, similar to curdled milk or cottage cheese. On the other hand, the unpleasant smell typical of vaginitis caused by bacterial infections is absent.

Itching and burning may also be present in the case of male candida, which is more often asymptomatic.

According to experts, in six out of ten cases stress is to blame, associated with some incorrect habits, such as the adoption of an unbalanced diet and the use of inadequate undergarments.

In these cases, for a certain diagnosis and adequate treatment, it is good to consult the gynecologist.

The latter, in fact, performs a pelvic examination during which he takes a sample of vaginal secretions to be analyzed under a microscope. If you find the presence of fungal elements, in addition to treatment with antifungals (in the form of creams, ointments, ointments, vaginal eggs, tablets or capsules), you can also prescribe probiotics, very useful to restore the natural balance of the vaginal bacterial flora and thus prevent the appearance of relapses. These are good bacteria (lactobacilli to be precise) which, among other functions, have that of producing lactic acid, which allows to restore the correct vaginal pH. Today there is the possibility of administering vaginally probiotics based on a Lactobacillus studied and selected for the best activity on site.

Even a correct diet can give its benefits, when it comes to preventing the appearance of relapses: generally it is advisable to drastically reduce foods rich in simple sugars and leavened foods based on white flours that favor the proliferation of Candida.

Finally, it is important to remember that candida, if contracted during pregnancy, does not pose a risk to either the mother or the fetus, but it is good to treat it promptly to prevent the infection from being transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth.

Not only candidiasis

When stress alters the local immune defenses of the genital area, candidiasis is not the only infection in which you can incur. In general, you can experience any vaginitis, ie all those inflammatory forms that can affect the vagina and that can be of infectious origin (caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites), but also irritative.

Abnormal discharge (variable in color and sometimes of bad smell), itching, intimate burning and erythema are generally the symptoms that accompany these conditions, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea (caused respectively by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae), trichomoniasis, caused by a protozoan (Trichomonas vaginalis), or vaginal herpes, caused by the Herpes simplex virus type 2.

A similar symptomatology is also found in atrophic vaginitis, a very common condition in menopause, due to the thinning of the vaginal walls due to the reduction of estrogen levels. In this case, losses are scarce, but dysuria, dyspareunia, dryness and burning are very frequent.

Very frequent is also bacterial vaginosis, in which the alterations of the vaginal microflora are followed by an excessive development of some bacteria normally present (in particular the Gardnerella vaginalis) that become aggressive (if developed during pregnancy it can also determine a premature birth) and whose typical symptom is represented by foul-smelling whitish discharge . Let’s see what are the symptoms (which in the case of vaginosis increase during the menstrual cycle and after sexual intercourse) and the differences with candidiasis.

Appearance of secretions Smell of secretions Inflammatory symptoms
Bacterial vaginosis Greyish-white losses Marked smell and very similar to that of “rotten” fish Rare or absent
Candidiasis Whitish losses, similar to curdled milk Absent Itching, burning during intercourse, irritation

In consideration of the variability of the diseases that can be encountered and that can give more or less intimate itching, it is good not to try a do-it-yourself diagnosis, but to contact the doctor or specialist for a gynecological examination: on the basis of the symptoms and, if necessary, of a vaginal swab it will be possible to identify the triggering agent and thus prescribe the most suitable treatments (a therapy with antibiotic drugs, For example, it is not needed if vaginitis is not bacterial.

Nevertheless, to relieve itching and pain, ice packs (never in direct contact with the skin) and cold compresses can be applied to the genital area or, a cold half-cupio can be used, ie a bath of the perineal area only with fresh water and with the possible addition of sodium bicarbonate or Epsom salts (magnesium salts that can be purchased in pharmacies).

To cause itching and intimate burning, especially during urination, can also be an infection of the urinary tract, which causes inflammation of the bladder (known in medicine with the term cystitis). In this case, frequent need to urinate, the presence of blood in the urine, and in some cases fever also often occur. If cystitis is suspected, it is advisable to contact your doctor to undergo any necessary medical examinations and treatments.

Induces vaginal dryness

The inner vaginal wall is naturally lubricated by a thin layer of humidifying mucus that also has the function of defending against external attacks. The amount of vaginal lubricant produced by each woman is different, as are the factors that affect it: too much stress can contribute to insufficient lubrication.

In fact, it has been highlighted that prolonged periods of particularly restrictive dietssport or intense physical activity or social, family, work, sentimental problems are very often accompanied by dryness of the vulvar and vaginal mucosa.

This problem is frequently associated with an alteration of the local pH that must be maintained around 4.5 to stimulate cervical secretions and ensure normal tissue elasticity.

Accompanied, typically, by itching and burning, vaginal dryness should therefore be fought both with special lubricants to be applied during sexual intercourse, and with moisturizing preparations capable of restoring the normal lubrication of the environment. In general, lubricants are all those gels or creams that mimic the natural liquids of the body to lubricate, that is, restore softness and fluidity to the genital tissues where dryness and friction can create discomfort. And they do not necessarily have to be used during sexual intercourse.

The most common are water-based ones, but there are also some containing silicones or oils. In addition, alongside products that do not contain particular excipients, there are those based on soothing principles, such as aloe (to which anti-bacterial properties are also attributed), chamomile and mallow, useful for calming irritations of the mucous membranes deriving from dryness. Among the natural remedies for itching we also remember compresses based on water and baking soda. To orient yourself in the choice, however, it is good to ask for advice on your trusted gynecologist.

Adequate hygiene is also advisable, relying on intimate cleansers with a soothing action and specific in case of irritation and intimate burning. For example, delicate products based on glycine, which can also relieve itching, which can be recommended by the gynecologist. Instead, avoid non-specific soaps for intimate hygiene, spray deodorants or intimate perfumes and vaginal douches.

Exacerbates possible psoriasis

Stress is recognized as one of the environmental factors that can trigger, in those who are predisposed, psoriasis and even exacerbate the symptoms. It is an autoimmune disease on a genetic basis in which the immune system is unleashed against skin cells causing chronic inflammation and accelerated reproduction, with the appearance, in the form called “plaques”, of thickened reddish spots, covered with a sort of silvery-white scales.

A less frequent form of psoriasis affects the intimate parts: there the patches are more reddened and smooth, almost devoid of flaking, and can be particularly itchy. Those who suffer from this form, therefore, in case of strong stress can also deal with the exacerbation of this intimate itching.

Both local and systemic therapies are available against psoriasis, which, if followed correctly, allow in most cases to keep the disease under control. It is equally important to avoid, in the case of intimate parts, too tight linen that rubbing with the skin can create irritation.

To relieve itching you should not scratch the lesions, but opt for creams and oils recommended by the dermatologist, as well as keep the skin as hydrated as possible with emollient creams.

Scratching feeds itching

Itching, even intimate itching, brings with it an irrepressible urge to scratch to find relief. But this only feeds a vicious circle.

This was confirmed by research conducted by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on mice, the results of which were published online in the journal Neuron. According to researchers, scratching causes the brain to release serotonin, which somehow intensifies the sensation of itching.

It has long been known to scientists that scratching creates a mild amount of pain in the skin. This pain signal can interfere with that of itching, at least temporarily, so much so that nerve cells in the spinal cord send pain signals to the brain instead of itching.

In response, the brain produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that aims to help control painful stimuli. According to the researchers, however, this same chemical ends up influencing the intensity of itching.

They would have understood this by observing mice. The scientists bred a group of mice genetically modified to deprive them of the genes needed to produce serotonin. When these animals were injected with a substance capable of stimulating itching, they were seen to scratch much less than mice that did not genetically modified. However, when the same mice were injected with serotonin, their behavior towards itching returned similar to that of other rodents.

This would show that, if on the one hand scratching can relieve the sensation of itching by creating less pain, the body’s response ends up triggering a worse itching, so it is advisable to try to scratch as little as possible to defuse the itchy mechanism.

In order not to worsen intimate itching

Proper intimate hygiene can also help prevent itching: cleansing, both when it is insufficient and when, on the contrary, it is too aggressive, represents in fact a stress for the vaginal ecosystem, which is thus altered.

Finally, attention should also be paid to hair removal of the genital area (which can cause local inflammation or irritation), frequent change of sanitary pads (both internal and external), an itching that appears after using a condom (which may indicate an allergy to latex) and clothing , avoiding underwear or trousers that are too tight (because rubbing can cause irritation and itching), and synthetic fabrics (which favor the establishment of a humid environment, favorable to the development of aggressive microorganisms), preferring cotton ones, which facilitate perspiration.

In case of intimate itching, it is always advisable to consult the gynecologist to evaluate the possibility that it is a vaginal infection and identify the most suitable treatment.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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