Why You Feel ‘Itchy’ Down There Before Or During Your Period, According To An Expert
Women's Health

Why You Feel ‘Itchy’ Down There Before Or During Your Period, According To An Expert

We understand how uncomfortable periods can be. From the lingering effects of PMS on our mood to aching cramps and bloating, there are enough changes happening in our bodies over a 28-day cycle to last us a lifetime. Still, some women experience a post-period symptom to add to their concerns: vaginal itchiness and odor. Which leaves us to wonder: what’s the reason behind all this?

To help us get to the bottom of this common issue, we’ve tapped board-certified OB/GYN Dr. Stephanie Hack, MD, MPH, the “Lady Parts Doctor,” to uncover normal and abnormal symptoms, causes, and preventative measures for vaginal itch and odor.

The Cause of Vaginal Itch and Odor

According to Dr. Hack, there are a number of factors that can cause vaginal irritation and itching.

“Vaginas are colonized with bacteria and yeast that generally live in harmony. The vagina has an acidic environment — its pH is under seven — which creates an environment where bacteria live in harmony,” she tells xoNecole. “Because we have lots of lactobacilli (or good bacteria) that keep the levels of the other more harmful bacteria and the yeast down, anything that decreases the amount of this good bacteria can throw the population levels off.”

This change in pH levels can then result in an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which can lead to vaginal infections like BV or a yeast infection.

What Causes Changes In Our pH Balance

Changes in our pH levels are connected to our hormone levels through estrogen and progesterone. “People who are in higher levels of estrogen states like due to pregnancy, being on your period, or taking hormone replacement therapy, can experience more yeast infections because of the relationship between estrogen and yeast,” Dr. Hack shares.

Because many of the products that we use in our daily hygiene routine can be irritating to our vaginal area, Dr. Hack shares that this can cause an allergic reaction or further exasperate our irritations. “As women, we will put many things in our vaginas trying to help it, but these things can actually be harmful,” she says. “One thing we always tell people not to do is put soaps in our vaginas. Douching, using sprays and creams, yoni pearls, and steaming can irritate the vagina and throw off your pH.”

Other factors like sexually transmitted infections and even some pelvic floor dysfunction can cause us to have burning or tingling pain and discomfort sensations in the vagina.

Why Vaginal Itching Happens Around Our Periods

Hormonal changes are seen as being the leading causes of vaginal irritation and why it tends to occur right before our period. Since there’s a link between our hormone levels and the estrogen levels of our cycle being highest just before ovulation, it essentially doesn’t give our bodies enough time to rebalance our pH levels before our periods start again.

“If you have a 28-day cycle, you're going to get your period about two weeks after ovulation. This may cause you to start experiencing the symptoms of yeast overgrowth, maybe a week or so after ovulation, which is a week before your period,” she says. So if you find yourself always saying, “Man, I'm always getting yeast infections right before my period,” you can blame your hormones for that.

Signs That It Might Be Time To See A Doctor

When it comes to whether or not you need to see the doctor about your vaginal discomfort, Dr. Hack advises you to pay attention to abnormal changes in the color and odor of your discharge. “If you notice that you have a lingering odor after your period ends, that isn’t your typical post-period blood odor, or you notice that you have a change in your discharge, that’s gray and has that fishy odor — or if it's clumpy and white, or green, or yellow — that's something that you should definitely follow up with your doctor on.”

Additionally, when speaking to your gynecologist, always keep note of any irregular pain associated with the pelvic area and cite any recent antibiotics or medication changes that could be related to these symptoms.

How To Prevent Vaginal Irritation

To maintain a balanced pH level and to keep your lady parts happy before and after your cycle, take the following feminine care tips into consideration:

  • “You don't really need to put anything in your vagina, other than water — you really should just clean your vagina with your hands and water,” she says. “In the shower, let the water run, and you can move your fingers in between the labia to get out any dried discharge, using a mild soap without a fragrance.”
  • “Avoid using harsh soaps and any other chemicals in the vagina because those can be irritating.”
  • “The research on probiotics is contradictory. You'll find some that say probiotics are helpful and others that say they aren't. But for people who continue to have chronic resonators or chronic symptoms like that, I always recommend that they try a probiotic and see if that helps, and they may find improvement in their symptoms.”

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