Symptoms, causes, treatment and more

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Vulvar dermatitis causes the soft skin around the opening of the vagina to become tender and itchy. Most cases can be controlled with ointments and medication.

The vulva is the outer part of the female genitalia. These include the outer labia majora, the inner labia minora, the outer part of the clitoris, and the vaginal and urethral openings.

Vulvar dermatitis occurs when the skin becomes irritated. It can affect people of all ages.

This article explains what vulvar dermatitis is and how to treat it.

Vulvar dermatitis occurs when the vulva, or the folds of skin around the vagina, become irritated, itchy, and inflamed. Doctors may refer to this inflammation as vulvitis.

It is a form of dermatitis that refers to a group of disorders that cause skin inflammation.

A person’s symptoms can vary depending on the cause. However, some common symptoms of vulvar dermatitis include:

  • moderate to severe itching
  • Burning or tenderness of the vulva
  • swelling of the vulva
  • Pain or discomfort during intercourse
  • irritation

Vulva dermatitis is usually the result of contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis occurs when a person’s skin is sensitive to heat, moisture, or other irritants. There are two main types of contact dermatitis:

Irritant contact dermatitis

according to a Review 2021Irritant contact dermatitis is one of the most common causes of vulvar symptoms in prepubertal girls. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when a product or substance irritates a person’s outer layer of skin, such as e.g.:

  • Body fluids, including vaginal discharge
  • feminine hygiene products
  • laundry detergent
  • soap or harsh detergents
  • tight-fitting clothing
  • Friction, as in intercourse
  • excessive washing
  • washcloth

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when you are exposed to a substance that someone is allergic to.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are more than 15,000 known allergens that can trigger a reaction. Some possible causes of allergic contact dermatitis in chemicals:

  • perfumes
  • soaps and detergents
  • sanitary napkins
  • spermicides
  • lubricant
  • Rubber products such as latex gloves, condoms and menstrual cups
  • Tights or clothing that contain azo dyes

Vulva dermatitis can come on suddenly or get worse over time with repeated exposure.

other causes

A number of other conditions can lead to vulvar dermatitis. Some of these conditions can be more serious than contact dermatitis, which means a person who experiences vulvae symptoms that don’t go away should see a doctor.

other causes of vulvar itching include:

Identifying and avoiding the triggers of vulvar dermatitis is an important step in treating the problem. People who are unsure of the cause may need to undergo patch testing. Various substances are applied to the skin to check for an allergic reaction.

Other possible treatments include applying steroid ointments or using Gold Bond or Zeasorb powder.

Here are some at-home prevention strategies that can prevent vulvar dermatitis:

  • Avoidance of an irritant or allergen that triggers symptoms
  • Refrain from scratching the area
  • Taking anti-itch medication
  • Use a cool compress on the area
  • wash new clothes before wearing them

The following self-care and hygiene measures may also reduce the risk of vulvar dermatitis:

Do:

  • Use unscented toilet paper
  • Use sanitary napkins with a cotton insert
  • Be wary of feminine hygiene products that have the words “gentle” or “mild” on the label
  • pat dry or use a hair dryer on the cool setting to dry the vulva

Do not:

  • Apply scented lotions or oils to the vulva
  • Scrub the vulva with a washcloth
  • Shower
  • Use menstrual products that contain deodorant or have plastic coatings
  • Use hair removal products or shave the vulva
  • Use soaps, gels, or lotions that contain perfume

Vulvar dermatitis is not contagious. However, sexual activity can make symptoms worse and painful.

A person with vulvar dermatitis should give their body time to heal before becoming intimate. Persistent symptoms may require evaluation by a doctor.

People who choose to have intercourse during a flare-up would benefit from:

  • Avoiding condoms that contain spermicide or are scented or flavored
  • Use natural oils like vegetable or coconut oil when lubrication is needed
  • Using a polyurethane condom
  • Avoiding the use of scented personal care products with sexual partners

The best way to prevent a possible flare-up is to avoid the irritant or allergen, which could include:

  • perfumed or scented products, such as vaginal sprays or douches
  • scented sanitary pads and tampons
  • Wet wipes for adults and babies
  • colored or scented toilet paper
  • scented soaps and other bath products
  • hair removal and bleaching preparations
  • tight-fitting clothing, underwear or stockings
  • Nylon underwear or tights
  • chlorine
  • wet or sandy swimwear
  • Latex condoms, lubricants and spermicides
  • body fluids

Most Vulvar dermatitis cases are due to a form of contact dermatitis. However, other factors can contribute to a person’s diagnosis. Doctors can begin their assessment with:

  • a gynecological examination
  • Assessment of the person’s medical history
  • Taking urine or vaginal discharge samples
  • a patch test

Most cases of vulvar dermatitis are not serious and should improve with time and treatment.

However, because some causes of itching can be serious and require treatment, it’s important for people to see a doctor if they experience severe itching or an itch that doesn’t improve over time.

People should also contact a doctor if they have the following symptoms:

  • increased swelling, pain, or warmth in the vaginal area
  • fever or chills
  • Burning when urinating
  • foul smelling vaginal discharge

Vulvar dermatitis is a condition that causes irritated, itchy skin around the vagina. The condition is often the result of products, clothing, or other substances that irritate the skin.

Vulvar dermatitis is not always preventable. However, avoiding common irritants can reduce the risk of the condition.

While it may help to limit exposure to potential irritants and avoid sexual activity until symptoms improve, people with prolonged or severe vulvar dermatitis should see a doctor. This can help determine the cause of your symptoms and an appropriate treatment plan.

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