Symptoms of a vulval infection include itching, soreness, pain, or changes in the skin colour or texture, and can be caused by a number of different conditions.
Skin conditions affecting the vulva include:
- Lichen sclerosus, which is most prevalent in post-menopausal women and related to immune system functioning.
- Lichen planus, a painful condition which can also affect the skin around the mouth.
- Lichen simplex (vulval dermatitis), a response to stress or chemical irritants, which may spread to the thighs or skin of the pubis and is usually worse in especially damp or heated conditions or with the use of scented soaps or deodorants.
- Vulval atrophy, in which the skin becomes pale and possibly itchy or sore, caused by a drop in oestrogen levels, usually post-menopause.
- VIN (vulval intraepithelial neoplasia), a potentially pre-cancerous skin condition diagnosed by biopsy.
- Thrush infection (Candida albicans), caused by an imbalance in the healthy flora of the vagina.
- Psoriasis, a skin disease characterised by scaly red patches on and around the joints, may in some cases affect the skin of the vulva, causing dryness and thickening.
Other medical conditions which do not directly affect the genitals can cause vulvar issues.
- Psoriasis can lead to lichen sclerosus.
- he inflammatory digestive condition Crohns disease can cause vulvar fistulas or abscesses.
- Regular use of steroids, immunosuppressant drugs and antibiotics can increase the risks of developing a vulvar skin condition.
What to do next
In all cases, it is important to take action if you notice any unusual changes in your vaginal health, as some conditions may begin with mild symptoms but can lead to something more serious.
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The disease begins with small, subtle white spots, which develop into bigger patches as the skin surface becomes thinned and crinkled, causing easy tearing and discoloration from bleeding. Scarring can cause the inner labia to shrink, and may affect the clitoris or vaginal opening. The disease is less common in men but similar symptoms may also appear on the foreskin
Symptoms of thrush include thin and watery, or thick and white discharge (sometimes compared to cottage cheese). Other symptoms include intense itchiness and pain around the vagina. The discharge from thrush does not have a strong smell. If you are experiencing symptoms, come to see a doctor for a firm diagnosis.
Some women will develop thrush after taking a course of antibiotics, because the antibiotics reduce the number of good bacteria in your vaginal flora, which is what allows the yeast to overgrow. This will not happen in all cases, however.