Vulvar skin conditions and health: prevention, diagnosis and relief

Vulvar health is easily taken for granted – until the burning, itching and soreness tell you that you have a yeast infection, allergic reaction, or other vulvar skin condition. Those things are impossible to ignore. Vulvar health is important to reproductive health and everyday comfort. Surprisingly, it is often “over maintaining” with soaps, sprays and douches that can trigger vulvar health problems. Keeping your routine basic and simple will help maintain your best vulvar health and prevent vulvar skin conditions.

What is the vulva?

The vulva includes all the structures of the female sex organs that lie outside of the vagina. These organs include folds of sensitive tissue called the labia majora and the inner minora around the vaginal opening. The vulva also includes the openings of the vagina and urinary tract pubis, the clitoris and the mons pubis or pubic bone.

Vulvar skin conditions and disorders

Vulvar disorders may be caused by inflamed nerves, allergies, skin disease, diabetes, infection or the cause can be unknown. Once you are experiencing vulvar pain or irritation, it can be further exacerbated by exercise, riding a bicycle, inserting a tampon, sexual activity or anything that puts friction or pressure on the vulva.

Vulvovaginitis – An inflammation or infection of the vulva and vagina, which can stem from a variety of causes. Can include red, tender, itchy, irritated vulvar skin.

Allergic Vulvar Skin Conditions – Soap, laundry detergent, deodorant sprays and anything with chemicals can trigger irritation or an allergic reaction. It’s important to use mild soaps, rinse underwear well after wearing and avoid harsh chemicals to prevent vulvar skin conditions.

Vulvodynia – Vulvar pain that lasts three months or longer with no discernable cause is diagnosed as vulvodynia. The condition can make sexual activity, exercise and even just sitting painful and uncomfortable. Symptoms can include burning, itching, raw skin, soreness and stinging.

Lichen Sclerosus – This long-term skin condition causes the skin to become white, wrinkly, thin and sensitive. Vulvar lichen sclerosus causes vulvar and anal itching, painful intercourse, blisters and vulvar skin that is easily torn, bruised or irritated. Dr. Stanislaus specializes in treating this difficult condition.

Vaginal Yeast Infection – An imbalance of bacteria and flora in the vagina can cause a yeast infection. A yeast infection can cause severe itching, irritation, redness and soreness.

Bacterial Vaginal Infection – Like a yeast infection, a vaginal infection caused by bacteria can cause extreme irritation and itching. If you think you have a yeast infection, but it doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments, it may be bacterial and you should see your doctor for treatment.

Bartholin Cyst – The pea-sized Bartholin’s glands are found on each side of the vaginal opening and are responsible for vaginal lubrication. When the lubricating fluid is blocked, it can cause a cyst that can cause pain in the labia. Symptoms can also include unpleasant vaginal discharge and a fever if the cyst becomes abscessed or infected.

Vulvar Cancer – A long-lasting lump or sore on the vulva that causes pain and itching should be looked at by a doctor in case it is vulvar cancer. Vulvar cancer is most common among older women.

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Vulva health tips

Help maintain your vulvar health with just a few easy changes to your hygiene and laundry routines.

  • Use warm water to wash then dry with a clean towel. If a towel will cause too much friction on irritated skin, use a blow dryer set on cool.
  • Douches, deodorant sprays and other vaginal cleansing solutions can disrupt the natural organisms and cultures that protect the vagina and vaginal skin from irritation.
  • Wear breathable, 100 percent cotton underwear. Synthetic underclothes – panties, hosiery, girdles – can be irritating and trap moisture on the skin. Avoid wearing thongs.
  • Give underwear an extra rinse in the wash cycle to remove any irritating soap residue. Do not use fabric softener.
  • Wash new underclothes before wearing.
  • Use soft toilet tissue (white only).
  • Use non-deodorant tampons to control menstrual bleeding during the day. Pads can be irritating to skin and trap moisture near the skin. (Do not use deodorant tampons.)
  • If you are experiencing irritation, take a soothing, plain water sitz bath between baths or showers.
  • Don’t scratch.

Why is vulvar and vaginal care important?

The skin of the vulva is sensitive. Moisture trapped near the skin, chemical reactions, infections and other conditions can cause vulvar skin conditions that are itchy, painful, burning and sensitive. These conditions can cause painful intercourse, pain when exercising, pain during urination or chronic itching and burning. Simple steps can help prevent vulvar discomfort and vaginal infections.

While there are many over-the-counter creams, yeast infection treatments and home remedies, it’s important not to self-diagnose vulvar skin conditions and pain. Many different problems present with the same symptoms and using the wrong treatment can make matters worse or at the very least delay getting the right treatment.

If you have any concerns about your vulvar health, vaginal health, vulvar skin conditions or experience a change in your health, pain or discharge, call for an appointment so we can accurately diagnose your issues and ensure you get the right treatment for a full and speedy recovery.