A red, itchy vagina and vulva (involving both the labia majora and the labia minora) occurs most frequently in the case of an infection, which causes vulvovaginitis (inflammation of the vulva and vagina). Refer to the article on Parts of the Vagina for more information on the anatomy of the human vagina.

What Causes a Red, Itchy Vagina, Vulva and Labia?

Vaginal Infections

The most common vaginal infections are :

  • Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection of the vagina, usually caused by an overgrowth of Gardnerella vaginalis (a type of bacteria which can normally be found in the vagina in small numbers).
  • Candida vaginitis is a vaginal yeast (fungal) infection, caused most frequently by Candida albicans.
  • Trichomoniasis is an infection with the protozoa, Trichomonas vaginalis, which is usually transmitted sexually. Red “strawberry spots” on the vaginal walls may sometimes be seen.

These can give rise to intense itching and redness around the vagina and vulva, including the labia. Burning, vaginal discharge and an offensive odor may also be present.

Other infections giving rise to symptoms of itching and redness of the vagina, vulva and labia are :

  • Genital herpes – caused by the herpes simplex virus and spread through sexual contact. Symptoms may be mild or severe. Recurrent blisters or ulcers occur on the vulva, causing pain, discomfort and itching.
  • Genital warts (condyloma) – these are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are spread through sexual contact. These are seen on the vulva as raised, reddish patches, a bunch of them together often looking like tiny cauliflowers. They may be painful and itchy.

Skin Diseases

  • Psoriasis is a skin disease which may appear on the vulva as red, thick, scaly or smooth patches (inverse psoriasis). These patches may cause intense itching.
  • Eczema appear as patches of red, dry, itchy skin.
  • Lichen planus usually causes an itchy skin rash. It can involve the vulva and vagina, causing painless white streaks on the vulva. However, it can also cause painful red sores on the vulva and vagina which can be extremely itchy. There is increased risk of vulval cancer associated with this disease.
  • Lichen sclerosus – during the acute phase of lichen sclerosus, the vulvar skin looks reddish in appearance but changes later to its typical white appearance as the disease progresses. It is linked to increased risk of vulval cancer.
  • Paget’s disease of the vulva is an unusual type of skin cancer. It can appear as red or white scaly plaques on the vulva.
  • Erosive vulvovaginitis – erosive changes in the vagina could occur due to certain rare diseases including erosive lichen planus.

Other Causes Itching and Redness of the Vagina

  • Foreign body – quite often a forgotten tampon.
  • Irritation from urine or feces – risk factors may be incontinence or being bedridden. In infants, infrequent diaper changes and improper cleaning of the area after passing stool may also be a cause.
  • Inadequate personal hygiene.
  • Infestations – scabies, pubic lice, pinworm.
  • Contact dermatitis – chemicals present in bubble baths, soap, perfumed toilet paper, deodorant tampons, powders, and sprays may irritate the vagina and vulva on contact.
  • Allergy to semen, latex condoms or spermicide gels.
  • One variety of invasive epidermoid cancer produces a characteristic velvety red lesion over the vulvar skin.
  • Radiotherapy for cancer.

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on December 17, 2011