The vulva is the outer layers of skin that cover and protect the vagina and the urethra (the opening through which you pass urine). Although it has a protective function the vulva can be affected by many conditions.
Studies have shown that 20% or 1:5 women have significant vulval symptoms
Studies have shown that 20% or 1:5 women have significant vulval symptoms. Many women are however reluctant to seek help due to embarrassment or worry about what may be wrong. The most common vulval symptoms include itching, pain and soreness during sex. Some women will notice a change in the skin colour or texture before noticing any other symptoms.
Most vulval skin conditions are not cancerous and are easily treated. It is however very important that the correct diagnosis is made prior to starting treatment so that appropriate treatment is given. It is therefore crucial that when being seen by a doctor, a full medical history and thorough examination of the area is carried out before treatment is offered.
Women are often taught the only cause of vulval itching is ‘thrush’ and when seeing patients in clinic many have had months of inappropriate treatment. Following a detailed consultation and examination, which may include a small skin biopsy it is often possible to start a curative treatment plan immediately.
Care of the vulval skin is crucial. Symptoms can actually be made worse by harsh washing and drying. The vulva should not be cleaned more than once a day, avoiding perfumed bath lotions and shower gels. The wearing of cotton underwear, washed in mild detergents – avoiding fabric softeners can help; and wearing tight fitting trousers should be avoided.
Self-examination of the vulva is a good thing for a woman to do and it can be done once a month at the same time the breasts are examined.