Irritated Vulva – Should I Be Worried?
Any form of vaginal irritation can be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. The vulva region includes your clitoris, urethra, labia and also the vaginal opening.(1)
Irritation of the vulva region refers to sensations, such as pain, itching and even swelling.(1)
Sometime or the other every woman experiences some form of irritation in this region, and usually, it is not a cause of concern and resolves itself within a few days. A minor irritation can also often be treated at home itself without having to go to the doctor. However, there are times when an irritated vulva can be a sign of an underlying condition. In such condition, you will experience some different symptoms than what you usually experience with minor irritations.
What Are The Causes Of Irritated Vulva & How To Treat It?
Here are some of the common causes of an irritated vulva, the signs you need to watch out for, how to treat these conditions and when it becomes necessary to see a doctor.
Irritated Vulva Caused by Contact Dermatitis(1)
Contact dermatitis is a common condition, which occurs when a substance causes irritation to the skin. Contact dermatitis is generally one of the most common causes of irritation to the vulva. It can affect the skin on any part of the body and certain substances that may cause contact dermatitis on the vulva are as follows:
- Latex condoms
- Laundry detergents
- Chemicals present new clothes
- Feminine sprays
- Fragrances in menstrual products
Your skin may either react immediately to the substance in question or it may appear gradually over a period of 24 to 48 hours.
Treatment for Irritated Vulva Caused by Contact Dermatitis
Yes, it is possible to treat contact dermatitis to resolve the vulvar irritation. The first step in treating this condition is to of course, identify the offending substance in question. To begin with, eliminate the substance causing contact dermatitis and you will get rid of your irritated vulva. You will notice that when you eliminate the offending substance causing the irritation, the rash or irritation being caused will clear up on its own and the skin will settle down. However, many times identifying the substance can prove to be difficult as you may suddenly develop a reaction to an item you have been using or been exposed to for your whole life.
Apart from eliminating the substance, you may also try to do the following:
- Wash the vaginal area with mild soap and lukewarm water to remove any remaining irritants and relieve the irritated vulva.
- If the vulvar area is itchy, then applying a topical anti-itch medication such as hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can help.
- If the reaction is mild to moderate, you can try taking an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to help decrease the symptoms of contact dermatitis as well as vulvar irritation.
- Take a lukewarm oatmeal bath to soothe the skin and provide relief from vulvar irritation.
Irritated Vulva Caused by Folliculitis(1)
The condition of folliculitis occurs when the hair follicles become inflamed or infected. It can either be one hair follicle or the condition may affect more hair follicles. Folliculitis can occur in any part of the body where hair growth is present.
In the pubic region, folliculitis typically happens due to waxing, shaving, or any other forms of hair removal. Sometimes folliculitis can cause unexplained itchiness in the pubic area and is referred to as ‘razor burn’ and the unexpected bumps you may notice are usually ingrown hairs, which are also a type of folliculitis.
Some Of The Other Symptoms Of Folliculitis Include:
- Itchy, burning skin
- Painful and tender skin
- A large swollen mass or bump
- Pus-filled blisters that break open easily and then crust over
- Clusters of tiny red bumps around hair follicles
- Clusters or white-headed pimples that develop around hair follicles
Treatment for Irritated Vulva Caused by Folliculitis
Ingrown hairs, razor burn, or any other types of Folliculitis generally resolve themselves over time without needing any special treatment. Just leave the area alone and you will find that in a couple of weeks the condition of Folliculitis as well as its associated vulvar irritation would have resolved itself.
However, if you experience severe pain along with itchiness, then you may find the following tips to be helpful:
- Wear loose clothing so as not to irritate the pubic region.
- Apply a warm compress for soothing the pain and tenderness and apply a cold compress to reduce the inflammation of Folliculitis and find relief from your irritated vulva also. If you feel it may become infected, then applying an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin may help prevent infection.
- To relieve itching from vulvar irritation, apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
Vaginal Yeast Infection Causing Irritated Vulva(1)
An overgrowth of Candida bacteria is usually the cause of most vaginal yeast infections leading to irritated vulva. Vaginal yeast infections typically do not happen before you reach puberty and also after menopause. However, sometimes many women may experience a yeast infection between these time periods as well.
Irritation to the vulva is one of the common symptoms of a yeast infection. Some of the symptoms you may notice in the vagina include:
- Vaginal itching
- Inflammation around the vagina
- Burning sensation during sex or urination
- Painful intercourse
- Whitish-gray, clumpy vaginal discharge resembling cottage cheese – sometimes this discharge can also be watery
Treatment for Irritated Vulva Caused by Vaginal Yeast Infection
It is important to get treatment for a vaginal yeast infection because the longer you leave it untreated, the severity of your symptoms is also likely to increase.
Most yeast infections are treated with the use of over-the-counter antifungal medications. These medications are available in the form of suppositories or creams and you will have to use them for one to seven days. Read the label on the medication to ensure you take the entire medication course since the infection may come back if you stop the medication before the infection heals properly.
Also, abstain from sexual activity until the infection and vulvar irritation has cleared up, as this can make your symptoms worse and may also interfere with the medication.
If you find that over-the-counter medications are not reducing the severity of your symptoms of irritated vulva, then you should consult a doctor to confirm whether it is a yeast infection or any other type of infection. Your doctor will also prescribe you with a stronger medication to help resolve the infection.
Irritated Vulva Caused by Hormonal Changes
Your body goes through many changes during each month as your monthly menstrual cycle comes along and the body needs to prepare for a possible pregnancy. There are many factors that can cause your hormones to fluctuate and change as every month the body’s hormone levels increase or decrease from ovulation to menstruation.
Apart from the monthly menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breastfeeding may also bring about hormonal changes.(2) Menopause is also known to cause hormonal changes that can lead to vulvar sensitivity and irritability.(3) Certain medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also wreak havoc on your hormones leading to irritated vulva.
Changing hormone levels in the body can cause irritation to the vaginal area. For example, if your estrogen levels go down, then the skin on the vulva becomes thinner, drier and has reduced elasticity as well which results in vulvar irritation. These factors make it more susceptible to irritation, such as itching in the vulva.
During the hormonal change, even engaging in intercourse, scratching, or friction created by clothing can also cause irritation.(1)
Symptoms of irritation of vulva brought on by hormonal changes may include:
- Vaginal itching
- Stinging sensation while urinating or during intercourse
- Tiny cuts
Treatment for Vulvar Irritation Due to Hormonal Changes
If you are undergoing hormonal fluctuations, then you should consider using a vaginal lubricant or moisturizer. Vaginal moisturizers provide a lasting moisturizing effect and also help the vaginal tissue retain moisture, thus reducing the irritation to vulva.
There are many silicone-based lubricants or water-based ones as well that you can apply before intercourse and foreplay. This will decrease the friction, thus lowering the discomfort and vulvar irritation.
If you don’t find any relief from using these, then consulting your doctor will help. Your doctor may recommend using an estrogen-based vaginal therapy, such as a ring or a cream, to help relieve your symptoms of vulvar irritation. They may also put you on hormonal birth control, such as an IUD or the birth control pill, which also sometimes help reduce hormonal fluctuations.
Vulvar Irritation Caused by Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
There are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria present in the vagina. If the delicate balance between both these types of bacteria gets upset, you end up getting an infection known as bacterial vaginosis, or BV. BV is the most common vaginal infection that affects women in the age range of 15 to 44 years and causes vulvar irritation.
While BV generally does not cause any symptoms, when you do notice any symptoms, they may include:
- Thin and/or foamy discharge
- Whitish-gray discharge
- Discharge may resemble cottage cheese
- Strong, fishy odor, especially after menstruation or intercourse
- Burning and/or pain in the vagina and vulva
Treatment for Vulvar Irritation Due to Bacterial Vaginosis
If you suspect that you may be suffering from BV, then you need to consult your doctor who will prescribe an antibiotic for treating the infection and thus relieve your irritated vulva. You need to complete the entire course of the antibiotic because the infection may return if you stop the medication too soon. Also, refrain from any sexual activity until the infection has cleared up.
When the symptoms of vulvar irritation are mild or moderate, then it is possible to manage the condition at home. However, if your vulvar irritation symptoms become severe and keep persisting for more than two weeks, then you need to see a doctor. You also need to seek medical attention if you suspect that you might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection. Your doctor will be the best person to determine what underlying condition is causing irritation and advise you accordingly on the next steps.
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