Vulvodynia, pronounced vul-voe-DIN-e-uh, is a chronic condition characterized by discomfort or pain around the vulva. The vulva is the tissue surrounding the vaginal opening that is supported by the pelvic floor muscles.
The irritation, burning, or pain associated with vulvodynia can last for at least three months to several years. It can even make activities like simply sitting for too long or engaging in sexual activities very uncomfortable and in some cases, almost unbearable.
Vulvodynia has been reported to have an incidence of 15%. Of the women suffering from vulvodynia, 55% have had no previous pregnancy and 97% are white. Patients range from 11 to 80 years old and the average age is 36 years old.
As of now, although experts and specialists have ideas, there is still no conclusive identifiable reason as to why or how it happens in women.
What are the causes Vulvodynia?
Until just recently, doctors have not recognized vulvodynia as a true pain syndrome and medical condition. The real cause of most forms of the disease also remains to be unknown.
There are also no evidences of the condition’s concrete relationship with sexually transmitted disease or infections. Moreover, many women are undiagnosed because of fear of judgement and the difficulty to discuss the topic.
What researchers know, however, is that vulvodynia could possibly be caused by:
- Irritation or injury of the nerves
- Inability of vulvar cells to respond normally to certain trauma or infection
- Genetic factors that cause this poor response of the vulva to chronic inflammation
- Enhanced sensitivity to yeast infections
- Muscular spasms
- Irritation or allergic reactions from certain substances or chemicals
- Hormonal imbalances or changes
- Descent or prolapse of the pelvic floor
- Uterine or bladder prolapse
- Frequent use of antibiotics
- Having experienced sexual abuse in the past
Signs and Symptoms of Vulvodynia
Typically, the symptoms of vulvodynia are experienced suddenly and can last from a few months to several years. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Rawness, stinging or burning pain of the vulvar tissue
- Throbbing, soreness, or aching of the vulva
- What some women describe as knife-like pains or the sensation of having acid poured over the skin
- Inflammation or swelling of the vulva, although this is uncommon
These symptoms can occur during any or all of the following circumstances:
- Constantly or recurring every once in a while
- While at rest or during activities like sexual intercourse, walking, or exercise
- While inserting a tampon, bicycling, or sitting down
The painful symptoms can also occur in just a relatively small and specific area or the whole vulva.
5 Tips to Overcome Vulvodynia
Luckily, there are available treatment options to minimize your pain and discomfort. Your doctor could also possibly pinpoint the cause of your vulval pain, and therefore prescribe a more specific medication. So, it is really important to be examined and diagnosed.
If you are still too embarrassed to visit your doctor, there are also some self-help tips to help you cope with the pain, relieve the symptoms, and prevent your condition from worsening. Examples of these are:
1. Pay extra attention about your laundry and clothing choices.
Your clothes should be able to keep your vaginal and vulvar area dry and cool. During the day, it is advised to wear white cotton underwear and sleep without any. Avoid any tight-fitting shorts, pants, or skirts.
If wearing tights or pantyhose, opt for knee-length or thigh-high options to allow air to flow to the vaginal area. After exercise or swimming, remove any sweaty or wet clothing immediately.
The products you use to clean and wash your clothes could also be irritating your vaginal area. To avoid this, use a dermatologist-approved gentle detergent. Rinse underwear or anything that comes in contact with your vulva twice to rid them of any chemicals or soap, and it’s best to skip fabric conditioner.
2. Be particular about your hygiene and the personal products you use.
First of all, use only white, soft, and unscented brands of toilet paper and 100% cotton tampons and pads. Avoid any scented creams, feminine hygiene products, bubble baths, or perfumed soaps which are potential irritants.
Take cool sitz baths or use lukewarm water to relieve irritation and burning. Prevent shampoo from getting onto the vulva. Urinate even before your bladder is full, and wash the vulva with water afterwards. This will also prevent bladder pain.
3. Observe these rules regarding sexual intercourse.
● Use a water-based lubricant.
● Ask for a topical anesthetic prescription from your doctor. Note that this may sting for the first few minutes upon application.
● Apply a frozen blue feminine gel pack or ice to relieve pain after intercourse.
● To prevent infection, urinate after sex and rinse your vulva with cool water afterwards.
● Never use any spermicides or contraceptive creams.
4. Avoid or limit your engagement in several physical activities.
● Avoid horseback riding, bicycle riding, motorcycling or any exercise that puts pressure directly on your vulvar area.
● Limit exercises that cause friction on the vulva and stick to low-intensity activities like walking.
● Wrap some ice or a gel pack in a small hand towel to relieve pain after exercise.
● Engage in yoga or exercise classes that teach and allow you to relax and stretch.
● Avoid chlorinated pools or hot tubs.
5. Make important lifestyle changes.
If you spend most of your time sitting, use a foam rubber donut. Also, try to stand every once in a while. Learn relaxation techniques to help you through the day.
Consume and include more fiber in your diet or take a psyllium product to prevent constipation. Stay hydrated by drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water per day.
Tips to Prevent Vulvodynia
As they say, prevention is better than cure. So, here are a few additional tips to hopefully help prevent vulvar pain:
- Refrain from washing your vulvar area excessively.
- Avoid using vaginal wipes or douching the area.
- Carefully and gently pat dry your vulva after rinsing.
- Avoid caffeine, acidic foods, food that have high sugar contents, or processed foods.
- If you suspect vulvar or vaginal infection, get it diagnosed immediately.
- Also, talk to your physician about any medications that seem to be worsening your condition.
Living with vulvodynia is undeniably hard. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to avoid, reduce, or relieve your pain. Follow these tips, and hopefully, you will recover and live a pain-free normal life soon.