You're squirming in your chair at work. You have to pull over on the drive to the supermarket so you can relieve your itchiness. You wake up scratching yourself in the middle of the night. You just can't stop itching "down there."
Fortunately, most causes of itchy bumps around the genital area aren't serious. However, if you think you have any of these conditions, visit your health care provider (a primary care doctor, gynecologist, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, urologist or dermatologist) who can help diagnose and treat it.
Here are some of the most common possible causes of itchy bumps around your vagina:
Lichen sclerosus: Lichen sclerosus, or LS, is a dermatological condition that primarily affects the genital area. It mainly impacts postmenopausal women, but about 7 percent to 14 percent of cases happen in girls who haven't had their period. Men sometimes get it and, rarely, children. When the skin lesions first appear, they're small, shiny, white and smooth. They grow larger over time, causing cracking and abrasions on the skin. Eventually, they thin the skin, leaving it crinkly, white and at risk of tearing. The itching can be very intense, causing cracks that increase the risk of infection and can even cause scarring that can interfere with urination or sex. LS is usually treated with high-potency corticosteroid creams or ointments that relieve symptoms and keep the condition from getting worse. Find out more about LS.
Genital herpes: Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by two types of viruses, herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2. You get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the disease. The sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals as well as the rectum or mouth. The blisters break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal. You may also have flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches or swollen glands. Though there is no cure, there are antiviral medications that reduce the number of outbreaks and help them heal faster. People with type 2 herpes may have recurrent outbreaks four to six times per year. People with type 1 herpes in the genitals typically have outbreaks less than once yearly. If you have genital herpes, you can ask your health care provider to do a blood test to find out which type you have.
Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many substances can cause this type of reaction such as cosmetics, soaps, fragrances, jewelry or plants. It usually occurs on the vagina if you've been directly exposed to the reaction-causing substance. The rash can develop within minutes to hours of exposure. Symptoms include bumps and blisters, sometimes with oozing and crushing; a red rash; dry, scaly, cracked skin; tenderness, burning or swelling; and itching, which may be severe. Your health care provider may prescribe a topical steroid cream or ointment or oral corticosteroids to relieve your symptoms.
Genital warts: Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is one of the most common types of sexually transmitted infections. There are over 100 types of HPV, and nearly all sexually active people will become infected with at least one type of HPV, but not all HPV types cause genital warts. Symptoms include several small raised cauliflower-like bumps. These may be small, flesh-colored or gray in your genital area and cause itching or discomfort and, in some cases, bleeding during intercourse. The warts may be so small and flat that you can't even see them. But they may multiply in large clusters. There are a variety of treatments available, including some prescription creams and ointments that you may apply at home and some surgical and nonsurgical treatments your health care provider can provide. There is a vaccine that protects women against becoming infected with nine types of HPV, including the types that cause warts. It's best to get vaccinated in the early teen years.
Ingrown hair: If you shave, pluck or wax pubic hairs, you increase your risk for an ingrown pubic hair. That can cause a small, round, sometimes itchy or painful, bump that resembles a pimple. The bump may be filled with pus. And the skin around the bump may become darker. You can apply warm soaks to the area, which will help it resolve itself without treatment, so don't try to extract the hair yourself. If it becomes inflamed, see your health care provider; you may have an infection.
Vulvar cancer: This rare type of cancer occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. It typically forms as a lump or sore on the vulva, often causing itching. It's commonly diagnosed in older women, according to the Mayo Clinic. Signs may include pain and tenderness; bleeding that isn't from menstruation; color changes, thickening or other skin changes; itching that doesn't go away; and a lump, open sore or wart-like bumps. As with other cancers, treatment options will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, your overall health, and what you prefer to do. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.