For 20 million women, painful sex is having a major impact on their lives. It’s not only painful, it affects the quality of their relationships and it keeps on causing a problem until it’s treated. That’s why I want to share this information with you about a group of painful conditions that cause irritation of the skin around the vagina – the area called the vulva. These conditions are known as vulvar dermatosis. Vulvar skin is usually protected and a little different than skin on more exposed areas of the body. It’s susceptible to some of the same skin conditions as the rest of the skin, and a few that typically only occur “down there.”
Most women, and a lot of doctors, are not familiar with vulvar dermatosis. They don’t realize how common these problems are and, as a result, feel isolated and embarrassed. They may fear they have a sexually transmitted disease or other problems and stop having sex. All of this can lead to depression and frustration. It’s not helped by the fact that vulvar skin problems are in that gray area between what gynecologists and what dermatologists typically treat. So it’s important to find a doctor familiar with the problem.
Here are some of the common vulvar symptoms that you should be aware of:
It’s not about relaxing, it’s not normal, and it’s something that usually can be improved with treatment.
Your doctor may ask you questions about:
- Your sexual practices
- Any history of sexually transmitted diseases
- Whether or not you use over-the-counter medications on the vulva
- If you’ve had surgery on your labia (the lips around the vagina)
- Trauma to your vulva
- Your exercise history
- How you care for your vulva
He or she will examine the vulvar skin carefully and look for areas of discoloration, paleness, redness, ulcers and other skin changes. The doctor might offer you a mirror to look at your vulva during the exam. They may also touch the skin with a cotton swab to see it there are any particularly tender spots.
They will also use a speculum to look inside the vagina for any abnormalities or discharge and check the pH, a measure of the level of acidity. The doctor may also do a more general exam including looking at the rest of your skin, and your eyes and mouth because some vulvar conditions are associated with more general health conditions.
Here are the most common causes of vulvar dermatosis:
Some products and substances used on the vulvar skin can be irritating to those tissues and cause inflammation. Here is a list to be aware of:
Things that can cause vulvar irritation:
- Soaps and detergents
- Panty liners and menstrual pads
Things that can cause an allergic response on the vulvar tissues:
- Benzocaine (Vagisil)
- Neomycin (Neosporin)
- Chlorhexidine (KY)
- Nail polish
- Latex condoms
- Nickel from piercings