Stop itching, please!
April 1, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Embarrassing question about stuff going on with my lady parts. Probably NSFW. Apologies in advance for the following grossness within.

I am a 27 yr. old married female in a monogamous relationship with a man. I am on Tilia FE (the pill) and have been for close to six years with no problems. I am experiencing some itching and irritation outside of the vagina. There is no itching inside whatsoever. It's all external; itching and irritation seems to be contained to the creases where the outside of the vagina meets my thighs, as well around the backside of my legs where my butt meets my thighs, all in very close, extremely unsettling proximity to my lady parts. The itching is so bad that sometimes a rash develops. Itching seems to be most intense while taking a bath. I sometimes use bubble bath, but not all the time, and have recently used lavender-scented epsom salt, but will not be using it again. There is absolutely no pain or discomfort during sex or urination. My husband has had no issues.

Special snowflake part: I have no health insurance to have this checked out by a gynecologist. I've had common yeast infections before, but the change in discharge leads me to believe that this is not the case this time around.

I have used Cortizone (which the label says is safe for use in the genital area) in the affected area when I though it was just a normal rash, but I have not used it regularly since I have had lingering discomfort for almost 3 months.

Possible irritation: I am an artist and have been using moulding plaster regularly as I have been preparing work for an exhibition. Plaster has been known to cause skin irritation in some people. Plaster use has cut down considerably now that I am approaching my show date.

What could this possibly be, and can it be treated with OTC medication?

Thanks, and again, I'm sorry for the grossness of this topic.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Please please please, if you are in the US and within driving distance of a Planned Parenthood, go there. Sliding scale, they want to help, and they don't care how "gross" you think a problem is. No one should be itchy and miserable for three months.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:09 PM on April 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

Have you tried switching to a "free & clear" type laundry detergent?

Also, is it getting hotter, weather-wise, wherever you are (i.e., more sweaty)? When I was younger I had a heat rash type thing in one of my armpits (another area where skin is touching skin and is likely to involve moisture), and the doctor had me hold a wet washcloth with baking soda on the skin for like 10-15 minutes each day. It cleared up after a while.

FWIW, this doesn't sound really like it has anything to do with your vagina, just happens to be occurring nearby it.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:11 PM on April 1, 2011

Also- yes, if you are using anything scented to clean either your body or your clothes/sheets/towels, use something unperfumed.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:15 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

What charmedimsure said. Both times.

Planned Parenthood offers a wide array of reproductive and non-reproductive health services. For men as well, if it's an issue that affects or is related to your partner.
posted by stet at 7:16 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

this sounds like some sort of heat/sweat rash sort of problem. bubble baths and scented soaps and lotions and all that stuff can really do a number on sensitive skin, and that skin is some of your most sensitive. i suggest switching soaps, detergents, and showering instead of bathing. make sure you're fully dry after your shower. it doesn't sound vaginal to me.
posted by nadawi at 7:17 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, that's what I was about to say. You should go to Planned Parenthood and see if you can get it checked out there. They have a sliding scale for gynecologist fees.

In the meantime, if there's any way for you to let a mod know, it would probably help for us to know: Are you experiencing the itching all the time, just more intensely when you take a bath? Or only at some times, and not others? And have you noticed any other pattern to the itching, say a certain time of month when it's worse? Also, you mention a change in discharge—what is the discharge like? And are you using any perfume or lotion or anything else applied to that skin? Have you tried ceasing baths for a while?

And when you say "The itching is so bad that sometimes a rash develops," do you mean the rash appeared on its own, or have you been scratching? Have you tried anything else for relief besides Cortizone, and if so, what was the effect? You were good to stop using that, by the way, since this could be a yeast infection (it doesn't have to be vaginal to be yeast), and Cortizone just masks that and can sometimes make it worse. And if you have been scratching, you would do well to stop doing so and even cut your nails very short to keep from damaging your skin further.

I've been in a similar situation, and the only thing to do is go to a gynecologist and explain what's going on, and don't allow them to put you off. There are prescription antiyeast/steroid creams out there that can work wonders for problems like this, but you have to get checked out to know exactly what this is.
posted by limeonaire at 7:17 PM on April 1, 2011

First off: your ladyparts aren't gross and there's no need to apologize!

Some sort of dermatitis triggered by the plaster seems like it's a decent guess, especially as the areas you describe as being irritated are creases where you could be sweating, thus creating the kind of environment where a skin irritant might settle and cause some problems. I would make sure only to use a mild, unscented glycerin soap (no bubble bath, no salts, no scrubs, etc.) and to do your laundry only with unscented, no-added-dyes-etc. detergent. Stay away from anything with perfumes or dyes (including panty liners).

You mention a change in discharge without really describing what your usual discharge has been and how it has changed... could you follow up with a moderator and give some more detail? That might help folks have a better idea as to whether it might be yeast or something else going on.

I would personally feel free to use cortisone in the short run if it gives you some relief from the itching, but it's not a long-term solution if there's a more chronic underlying cause to the issue (and since it's a steroidal cream, there can be problems with long-term use). You also might want to try an oatmeal bath to see if that is soothing.

Even without health insurance, though, I think it might be worth a trip to a doctor. As others have suggested, check out Planned Parenthood. Alternatively, you could see if there's a clinic or medical practice associated with a hospital in your area where you have the option of seeing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, which could also cost less than a regular doctor's fee.
posted by scody at 7:21 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

What kind of fabric is your underwear made of? If you are wearing nylon, you may want to consider switching to cotton, as nylon may be contributing to the irritation.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 7:24 PM on April 1, 2011

Yes, go to planned parenthood or to the provider who put you on your BCP. Bring along a timeline of the last three months that includes when you think it started, what it looks/feels like at its worst, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and the quality, character, and location of the rash and/or irritation. This will alert your provider to your seriousness of getting the issue addressed and avoid "waiting and seeing" for any longer.

Based on your excellent and precise description of location (and I am so anti internet diagnoses, but on this one, I can't help myself), I am deeply suspicious of the latex (potential allergen) in the elastic of your underpants.
posted by rumposinc at 7:25 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could also be a dry skin issue. Not knowing where you live, if you're in the northeast, the air has been cold and dry for months. I end up with a similar problem sometimes and for me it's dry skin. Since your complaint is all external, maybe try applying a fragrance free moisturizer like Cetaphil after you dry off from the bath. See if that helps.
posted by wondermouse at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2011

I'm wondering if this is simply a female version of jock itch...please do see a doctor about it. Meanwhile, ditch the bubblebath and add a small bit of vinegar to your bath water....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:39 PM on April 1, 2011

Also... have you tried not bathing for a while, and shower instead? Since it gets worse in the bath..
posted by wondermouse at 7:46 PM on April 1, 2011

this sounds very similar to something i've been suffering with for the past several years. i don't have ladybits, but the rest rings pretty true. i found that the over the counter hydrocortizone works okay, but will eventually not be strong enough.

ultimately, i have to go to the doctor, who prescribes something stronger. only when i do so do i get relief.
posted by lester at 7:46 PM on April 1, 2011

If it is something like jock itch, that would be fungal, so would need something like Lamisil or Lotrimin, or natural remedies vinegar or tea tree oil.

Note that I'm not saying it is jock itch. Look at all the possibilities so far in this thread:
heat rash
latex allergy
jock itch
vaginal infection/secretion
dry skin
All of these items have slightly different treatments. If you really can't get to a doctor, you might try to get a notebook, try various OTC or natural remedies, and keep track of what you've tried and how it faired.
posted by CathyG at 8:13 PM on April 1, 2011

Lavender products I have used irritate my skin. Lavender's pleasant aromatic smell is a sort of solvent. Try some oatmeal based stuff like Aveeno if you like baths. Hot bath water can also be drying to your skin, by the way, so give your skin a break. Run around with no underwear for a while an allow the skin to heal.
posted by effluvia at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2011

Sounds like heat rash if its mostly in the creases. Baby powder is your friend. We work 12+ hour days offshore in a mostly tropical environment. A lot of guys use baby powder to prevent this. Try showering after the pottery and maybe wearing some looser panties without the elastic.
posted by Yorrick at 8:26 PM on April 1, 2011

Sorry, misread pottery/plaster.
posted by Yorrick at 8:28 PM on April 1, 2011

If you sweat a lot there it could be heat rash--I had good luck with some gnarly underboob heat rash from last year's horrid summer by applying corn starch, giving it as much air as possible, and keeping it very dry. Corn starch is very cheap. Wear lots of breathable cotton but go naked as much as possible.

(It could be a lot of things, though.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:40 PM on April 1, 2011

I think the OP meant that vaginal discharge changed during previous yeast infections, not that there is currently a change in vaginal discharge.
posted by galadriel at 8:52 PM on April 1, 2011

If your discharge has changed, but you don't think it's a yeast infection, another possibility is a bacterial infection. It's not something you can cure yourself, if so. Since there are so many different possibilities, get thee to Planned Parenthood, and get rid of this discomfort.

Good Luck!
posted by annsunny at 8:54 PM on April 1, 2011

When my SO (a male) has had this sort of thing, it's been diagnosed as a fungal infection. It's itchy, red, looks sort of like red, scaly clusters, and shows up when the weather turns warm and he starts sweating a lot between his legs and in his crotch. His penis and testicles are not affected when he has these flare-ups and nothing happens to my bits through sexual contact. He's been prescribed Tolnoftate and Clotrimazol in the past and they've both cleared it up in a couple of days.

There are over the counter anti-fungals you might try, too, fwiw.

Also, I've had both a bacterial infection and the occasional yeast infection and in neither instance was their any manifestation outside my vagina/urethra/bladder. YMMV.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:00 PM on April 1, 2011

Reading this section, this does NOT appear to be any kind of ladyparts or gynecological problem: "I am experiencing some itching and irritation outside of the vagina. There is no itching inside whatsoever. It's all external; itching and irritation seems to be contained to the creases where the outside of the vagina meets my thighs, as well around the backside of my legs where my butt meets my thighs, all in very close, extremely unsettling proximity to my lady parts. "

The differing answers in this thread are probably because many people use the word "vagina" when they mean "vulva". The vagina is in the interior of your body; the vulva is on the surface of your body. If the irritation is not on any of the pinkish mucous membranes area (introitus/vaginal opening, labia minora, clitoris) or the no-womans-land of the labia majora, then the irritation is in the skin of your groin, more specifically in the crease of the groin and radiating outwards. This probably isn't the kind of problem that requires a gynecologist.

Some kind of heat rash, possible fungal infection, or contact dermatitis is probably what's going on. Planned Parenthood might be able help you there, as I'm sure the doctors are qualified to handle that kind of diagnosis and treatment in a pinch. But better yet, can you find a free or affordable walk-in clinic? You don't need a specialist, just a GP. Once they look at you, they can see if there is anything that would require you going to a gynecologist (or PP), but none of us here are qualified to say so.
posted by rosebuddy at 9:11 PM on April 1, 2011

Sounds like a yeast infection to me. If it were me, I would try and OTC vaginal yeast infection med. And put some jock itch medicine on the external parts. Try to keep the area dry and aired out.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 9:38 PM on April 1, 2011

When I had these symptoms (and I'll second this doesn't sound like a genital problem but more of sweaty crease problem) OTC medication and being vigilant keeping things dry did pretty well bupkiss. My doctor indicated that the fungal infection I had can be very persistent lying dormant in the skin waiting for a right conditions to present themselves to flare up. He proscribed clotrimaderm mixed with something else but at a strength several times that of OTC medications.

On the bright side the medication was both cheap and effective and it took the doctor about 15 seconds to make a diagnosis. It eased the worst of the symptoms almost immediately and cleared it up in a couple weeks.
posted by Mitheral at 11:09 PM on April 1, 2011

I recently gave myself a shaving rash around my ladybits which was itchy and irritated. I sorted it out by using a cheap, cheap cream from the drug store (A+D Ointment, $2.99 a tube in the baby care section where they have all the diaper rash stuff) and Johnson's Baby Powder.

Also n'thing the suggestions to not use perfumed soap or cleanser down there and to go to a free clinic to get it checked out.

Added bonus information: A+D Ointment makes the absolute best lip balm I have ever used. And believe me, I am a connoisseur of lip balms. It's better even than Kiehl's. Always read the label.
posted by essexjan at 1:22 AM on April 2, 2011

Just nthing the suggestion to shower instead of bathing. Warm water is HEAVEN for things that like to grown on your skin and while it may not directly be making things worse (though you mention that the itching is worst in the tub, so that is certainly another reason to switch to showers), it's certainly not going to help it clear up any faster.

(Also avoid baths when you have a yeast infection for the same reason. It makes yeast super happy, which makes your vagina super sad!)
posted by sonika at 4:59 AM on April 2, 2011

Baby powder is your friend.

Just make sure that if you try baby powder, you use the corn-starch version, not the talcum-powder one, since talcum powder use has been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
posted by limeonaire at 6:51 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the elastic on your underpants being the culprit. I don't have a latex allergy but I'm very sensitive to nylon. For example, I can have nylon thread in the stitching on my watchband or a weeping itchy rash ensues. When I get symptoms like those you've described, it usually means the elastic has broken through the cotton seams of that day's underwear and it's time to purge. Since I tend to buy underwear in big batches, they tend to break down in batches.
posted by carmicha at 7:26 AM on April 2, 2011

This sounds like a yeast / fungal infection to me. I get it sometimes, usually in the summer and it itches/burns and makes me want to walk like a cowboy. The affected skin is pink and slightly inflamed and quite uncomfortable.

For me the solution is cotton undies that DO NOT RUB and an anti-fungal cream. I've used the cream for jock itch with success and I've used the OTC yeast infection treatments (but on the creases, not inside). No powders, no lotions, no bubble baths or harsh soaps, just gentle cleansing in a cool shower and an antifungal.

I hope you feel better soon, itchy lady bits are no fun at all!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 8:32 AM on April 2, 2011

Rosebuddy got there before I did. From the description of where the problem is, it's in the part of the body covered by swimsuit bottoms or underwear but not actually vaginal/vulval.

I'll join the chorus and guess that it's a skin yeast infection--essentially, jock itch. Is there any sort of smell associated with it, particularly a sweetish or bakerylike odor? This is not a joke. If so, I suggest over the counter creams and powders like Lotrimin can help very easily.

Sounds so uncomfortable. Hope it gets solved soon!
posted by Sublimity at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2011

Someone suggested tea tree oil as an alternative med for fungal infection (which this sounds like to me). DO NOT USE TEA TREE OIL. I managed to turn a fungal crotch infection into a nasty raw inflamed mess (without ridding myself of the fungus) by using this instead of an OTC fungal cream. Using tea tree oil is like putting kerosene on your delicate skin.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:32 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

First thing I would do is cut out as many irritants as you can. Switch from baths to showers. Use unscented soaps, lotions, laundry detergents. Wear cotton panties, and try to find ones with soft elastic. You may want to wear no panties at night.

Cortisone cream is good for itchiness, I'd continue that. Go with cream not ointment. Also using a little cornstarch-based baby powder will help keep you dry. In the summer I have to use baby powder all over to keep from breaking out in rashes because my skin is that sensitive!

For the record, this is one of the least "gross" medical question I've ever seen on AskMe!
posted by radioamy at 10:51 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you recently lost or gained weight that made your jeans/undies fit differently? I ask because the upper thigh irritation thing happened to me when I lost weight recently...I think it was some elastic/sizing issue but new panties fixed it.
posted by nile_red at 9:44 PM on April 2, 2011

To me, it sounds like it could be a number of things- and my first thought was not STD. More like a contact dermatitis or overall itch/scratch cycle irritation- which is a really common, though often (and I don't know why) unspoken of affliction that drives a large percentage of women insane.

Here are some possibilities, and their fixes:

Chronic Yeast Infection: You don't have to have discharge necessarily, you might have an inability to correctly process sugar and thusly, over produce yeast- and that itch on the outside is due to excess yeast. Your doctor at a walk-in can give you prescriptions (ask for multiple doses- explain your chronic problem). Fluconazole is the drug you want.

If you find that you do eat alot of sugar, try cutting down on it drastically. Even through cutting down of eating gluten. It might really have an effect on the itch.

Lichen Sclerosis: Basically, a word that sounds like fungus but what really means is a massive reaction to scratching, that makes you itch. Which makes you scratch. It's the itchy scratchy show for someone who suffers from this and it's terrible to have to live with.

Try not to wear panties when you sleep- you want air flow. Also, go to the walk-in and get a prescription for a topical steroid based cream. Ketonazole, Clobetasol.

Stay away from hot water on that area. Hot water strips the natural oils away from the skin, over-drying it. Which you probably have.

Good luck, hope this helps you- and you're in good company- it's a very common ocurrance.
posted by Fenshwee at 4:28 AM on April 6, 2011

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