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Genital skin problems are very common and are not necessarily related to sexually transmitted diseases. The external genital organ of a woman is known as vulva. There are many different vulval conditions you can get, that are fairly common.
Vulval symptoms may include redness, itchiness, pain, and ulceration which can be incredibly uncomfortable and may feel embarrassing to address. However, consulting a doctor or dermatologist about your symptoms is important in order to quickly and effectively treat the vulva condition.
There are some vulva conditions that are more common and easily recogniseable than others, however, they include:
Candidiasis (thrush) – Candida is a type of fungal yeast that typically lives in areas such as the mouth, skin, and vagina. If there is an imbalance, candida can multiply and become out of control causing an infection. There can be many causes of genital candidiasis (also known as thrush) such as pregnancy, some medications and antibiotics and diabetes to name a few.
Treatment: It can easily be treated either internally or externally with a topical cream, depending on how bad your symptoms are – you may require both.
Dermatitis (eczema) – Vulvar dermatitis can be caused by wetness or heat and results in painful, red and itchy skin around the vagina. It can also be a reaction to a soap or cream. If you suffer from eczema, this can also cause vulval dermatitis.
Treatment: You can treat vulval dermatitis with some over the counter treatments but it is advised to go to a dermatologist or gynecologist for a specialist diagnosis and treatment plan. You may benefit from skin allergy testing (patch testing).
Herpes and warts – Genital herpes and warts are both forms of sexually transmitted diseases. Herpes is caused by the HSV virus and although it can be treated, it cannot be cured. Genital warts are caused by the HPV virus and appear as soft growths on the vulva which can be treated, however, they can easily come back so a bespoke treatment plan is necessary.
Treatment: Topical treatments are often prescribed and cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) can be applied, however, if warts don’t disappear after this; minor surgery may be required to remove them completely.
Vulvitis – Vulvitis is inflammation of the vulva which can often be a symptom of another underlying issue such as an infection, injury or allergic reaction. The main symptoms are itching, burning, redness, swelling, and soreness.
Treatment: This depends on the underlying cause which should be addressed
Hidradenitis – Hidradenitis suppurativa is a long-term, painful condition that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin and occurs in the skin near hair follicles and sweat glands.
Treatment: In the early stages, it may be controlled with medication such as antibiotics, and antiseptics. Surgery may be required in severe or persistent cases.
Lichen simplex chronicus – Lichen simplex chronicus (LSC) is a localized, well-circumscribed area of thickened skin which is caused by repeated rubbing, scratching and itching of the skin.
Treatment: Topical steroids and emollients are the main treatment of choice as they help reduce inflammation and soothe itching while also softening the hyperkeratosis.
Behçet’s disease – Behçet’s disease is an inflammatory disorder that can affect multiple areas of the body. The most common symptoms include painful mouth and genital sores, as well as inflammation of the eyes and arthritis.
Treatment: Topical and systemic steroids and immunosuppressive medications may be effective when treating Behçet’s disease.
Lichen sclerosus – Lichen sclerosus is a common vulva condition that affects people of all ages including children, but it can be more common in women over the age of 50. It causes itchy white patches on the genitals, surrounding areas or other parts of the body which can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Treatment: Although there isn’t a cure for lichen sclerosus, steroid creams and other treatments can help relieve the symptoms. Making the right diagnosis and starting the treatment is extremely important as, if not treated properly, this condition can cause permanent changes to the genital appearance.
Lichen planus – Lichen planus is a non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition that causes rashes and/or sores on your skin and sometimes on moist areas such as your vagina, vulva, and mouth. It can often be itchy and painful.
Treatment: Lichen planus of the vulva can be quite uncomfortable, however creams and ointments can help ease and control the pain.
Diagnosis may be tricky and is best done by an expert. Dermatologists, gynaecologists and doctors in genitourinary medicine are the most appropriate specialists to examine and diagnose vulval diseases. Skin swabs or biopsies (samples) may be helpful.
Taking good care of the genital skin can help treat and prevent vulvar and vaginal problems. General principles include:
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