Can Vaginas Have Allergies? This Ob-Gyn Says Yes
Allergy season is upon us, bringing runny noses and itchy eyes. But what if you’re experiencing that itchiness in the vulva and vagina? Let’s just say if you’ve tried to beat a mysterious, recurrent yeast infection to no avail, it might be worth replacing Monistat with antihistamines.
Research shows that vaginal allergies, also known as allergic vaginitis, is an underdiagnosed condition. “Many women believe if you’re experiencing itching or redness to your vulva, it’s a yeast infection (which it could be) but it could also well be a sensitivity to an allergen,” Mary Jane Minkin, MD, ob-gyn and clinical professor at Yale University, tells POPSUGAR.
On a daily basis, the vulva is exposed to various allergens and irritants that can cause an allergic reaction on the vulva, resulting in inflammation, itching, redness, and overall discomfort. Ahead, Dr. Minkin breaks down the common causes of allergic reactions on the vulva, symptoms of allergic reactions, ways to treat symptoms, and when to see a medical professional.
What Is Allergic Vaginitis?
Vaginal allergies, or allergic vaginitis, is an irritation of the vagina or vulva caused by an allergic reaction. One of the major symptoms of an allergic reaction is vulvitis, which is inflammation of the vulva or vagina and presents as itchy and swollen, according to John Hopkins. Other symptoms can include:
- Itching or burning sensation in your vulva or vagina
- Vaginal discharge that is thick, mucus-like, yellow or green
- Redness and swelling of the labia
- Dry, cracked skin around the vulva
Allergic vaginitis is often underdiagnosed because the symptoms heavily overlap with other vaginitis disorders like yeast infections, STIs, and low estrogen levels due to menopause, according to Cleveland Clinic. For example, Dr. Minkin says many of her postmenopausal patients suffer from vaginal dryness independently of allergies and sensitivities.
What Causes Allergic Reactions in the Vagina?
The skin on the inside of your vulva and vagina is similar to the skin inside your nose in that it’s porous. So, in the same way your sinuses or nasal passages can absorb allergens, so can your vulvar and vaginal skin. For that reason, your vaginal lining is capable of provoking allergic reactions, just like your nose and sinuses do, according to The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “The most sensitive skin in the body is the female genitalia: the vagina and the vulva,” Dr. Minkin says.
Studies show that exposure to contact allergens such as fragrance, preservatives, and medicine can result in an allergic reaction in the vagina or on the vulva. That includes products like:
- Fragrance. Perfumed panty liners, pads, tampons, soap, wipes, and topical products designed to block odor can cause an allergic reaction.
- Chemical Irritants. Lotions, detergents, and fabric softeners may contain harmful chemicals in addition to fragrance.
- Latex. A common vaginal allergy is latex condoms. If you have a latex allergy, your vagina won’t respond well to latex condoms or sex toys.
- Spermicide. Used in some condoms or lubricants, the chemical kills sperm but can cause irritation to the vulva or vagina with continued use.
How Do You Treat Vaginal Allergies?
If a patient comes in with vaginal and vulvar itching, Dr. Minkin will first evaluate them for infection like a yeast infection or STI. If they don’t have an infection, Dr. Minkin will ask about possible irritants. From there, they’ll assess treatment options such as:
- Antihistamines (i.e. over-the-counter allergy medicines like Benadryl and Claritin) are used to treat allergy symptoms. They work by blocking “histamine,” which is a chemical created by your immune system that can overreact to allergens, according to Cleveland Clinic.
- Sublingual immunotherapy. Allergy drops administered under the tongue can help build a tolerance to allergens and have been shown to effectively treat chronic vaginitis caused by food or airborne allergies. The initial immunotherapy treatment must be administered by a doctor.
- Remove exposure to the allergen. To prevent future irritation, Dr. Minkin encourages switching to white cotton underwear because it’s breathable and doesn’t have harmful dyes, as well as avoiding fragrant soaps and other products that the vagina and vulva might be sensitive to.
If you’re suffering from irritation in the vagina or on the vulva, seek input from your gynecological healthcare provider to rule out related conditions like STIs, yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or a drop in estrogen. Then, you can see if vaginal allergies might be what’s happening with you.