What is Vulvar Dermatitis?
Vulvar dermatitis is a condition in which the soft skin surrounding the vulva gets tender and itchy. It irritates the skin and can affect people of any age. This condition is also referred to as vulvitis.
The vulva is the outer portion of the female genital including the outer labia majora, labia minora, the external part of the clitoris, and vaginal and urethral opening.
Causes of Vulvar Dermatitis
Vulvar dermatitis occurs as a result of contact dermatitis. When a person’s skin becomes sensitive to heat, moisture, or another irritant contact dermatitis occurs.
There are two types of Contact dermatitis:
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common cause of vulvar symptoms in prepubertal girls.(1) It occurs when the outer layer of the skin comes in contact with an irritant. The irritants include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Laundry detergents
- Soap or harsh cleansers
- Feminine hygiene products
- Tight-fitting clothes
- Tight clothing
- Friction during sexual intercourse
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs after exposure to the irritant. There are more than 15,000 irritants or allergens known that can trigger a reaction.(2) They include:
- Sanitary pads
- Soaps and detergents
- Rubber products
- Pantyhose or clothing containing azo dyes
Vulvar itching can also be due to other causes, which include:(1)
- Pubic lice
- Lichen sclerosis
- Lichen planus
- Atopic dermatitis
- Vulvar cancer
Symptoms of Vulvar Dermatitis
The common symptoms of vulvar dermatitis include:
- Vulvar swelling
- Moderate to severe itching
- Burning sensation in the vulva
- Tenderness of vulva
How to Diagnose Vulvar Dermatitis?
Mostly vulvar dermatitis is due to some form of contact.(4)
Assessment of vulvar dermatitis begins with pelvic examination. The person’s medical history is taken by the doctor. Urine and vaginal discharge sample are taken.
A patch test can also be done.
Treatment of Vulvar Dermatitis
Knowing or identifying triggers is the first step in the treatment of vulvar dermatitis. Those unsure of the cause need to go through a patch test, which involves placing the substance in an area on the skin.
The medications for vulvar dermatitis include steroid ointments.
Home Remedies for Vulvar Dermatitis
There are a few at-home remedies that can be helpful in preventing vulvar dermatitis.(2)
- Avoiding the irritant or allergen
- Taking anti-itch medications
- Refraining from scratching the area
- Washing new clothes before wearing them
- Applying cool compress
There are a few self-care measures that can be helpful in reducing dermatitis.(3)
- Use unscented toilet paper
- Use sanitary pads
- Be cautious while using feminine products
- Pat dry or use a hair dryer at cool setting to dry the vulva
Do not use scented lotions, scrub with a washcloth, douche, hair removal products, or scented soaps and gel on the vulva
Sex and Vulvar Dermatitis
Vulvar dermatitis is not contagious, but engaging in sexual activities can be painful. It can also aggravate the symptoms.
Before getting intimate, the body should be given time to heal. Persistent symptoms may require vulvar dermatitis evaluation by a healthcare professional.
If deciding to have intercourse during a period of a flare-up, the following tips could be beneficial:
- Avoid condoms that are scented
- Use polyurethane condom
- Use natural oils such as vegetables or coconut oil if lubrication
- Avoid using perfumed personal care products
Mostly the cases of vulvar dermatitis are not serious and improve with time and treatment. If the itching does not improve over time, a doctor should be consulted. A doctor should also be consulted if there is fever, burning in urination, increased swelling and pain, and foul-smelling vaginal discharge.