Vulvar Afflictions and Skin Conditions

Quick quiz:  What is the largest organ of the human body? Hint: freckles, sunburn, pimples, eczema.  If you said skin, you win!  Not only is our skin the largest organ; it is the fastest growing.  Very simply, this marvel of our anatomy keeps good things in (like internal organs, bodily fluids) and bad things out (like harmful bacteria, environmental elements).

Because skin covers our entire body, it is part of the vulva, or external female genitilia. The word vulva is derived from the Latin volvere, or “wrapper”– to roll over. So any skin afflictions or diseases that occur anywhere on the body can also affect us “down there.”

Dermatitis, tattoos, piercings, vajazzling – the vulva has been subjected to it all. Most of the time, this “forgotten area” is taken for granted.  However, when pain occurs anywhere around the vulva, we call it vulvodynia. It can become overwhelming and mentally exhausting.

Vestibulodynia is one such condition.  The pain around the entrance to the vagina is described as being “cutting or searing.” It can be so severe that intercourse and even inserting a tampon are impossible.  Why does this happen?  It can be hormonally triggered via birth control pills or menopause. It can also be caused by an allergic reaction, a previous injury or childbirth.  Another possibility is congenital neuroproliferative vestibulodynia (pardon another medical term), when a female is born with more nerve endings in the vaginal vestibule.

Treatment can vary from oral medications like antidepressants, to seizure medications which can help to desensitize the pain. Other approaches include nerve block injections, biofeedback or surgery.  A vestibulectomy will remove the affected tissue and can be very successful in providing relief.

Correct diagnosis is important and can take time.  The pain that accompanies vulvodynia is real. If your current physician is not providing you with adequate options, please know that specialists are available to help.

About Dr. Renee Horowitz

Dr. Renee Horowitz is a fellow with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the American Medical Association, the American Medical Women’s Association, and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. She also is affiliated with the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, and DMC Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.

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