The vulva is the outer portion of the female genitals. The vulva is a very sensitive area of skin that a person needs to treat with some care to prevent irritation.
There are several potential causes of an irritated vulva. They can range from benign conditions, such as contact dermatitis, to more severe conditions.
A person can usually treat an irritated vulva with home remedies. However, if the irritation does not go away or gets worse, it might be a good idea to speak to a doctor.
Keep reading for information on what might cause an irritated vulva, as well as how to relieve the symptoms.
There are many potential causes of an irritated vulva, including:
- Menopause or hormonal medications: Changes in hormones, either due to menopause or hormonal drugs, such as birth control pills, can reduce vaginal secretions and cause irritating dryness.
- Sweating: Trapped sweat, such as when wearing tight clothes or after working out, can cause itching and irritation.
- Allergies or dermatitis: Allergic reactions to soaps, moisturizers, or other chemicals can irritate the vulva.
- Bacterial infection: Common infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), can cause pain and itching in the area.
- Eczema: Eczema is a skin condition can occur on any part of the body, including the vulva.
- Psoriasis: Genital psoriasis can affect approximately 30–60% of all people with psoriasis.
- Lichen sclerosus: Lichen sclerosus causes small patches of white skin around the genitals.
- Folliculitis: An infected hair follicle or ingrown hair, typically due to shaving, can irritate the skin to cause folliculitis.
- Lichen planus: Lichen planus is an inflammatory skin condition causes a scaly rash.
- Yeast infections: Sometimes called vaginal thrush, a yeast infection can cause itching and irritation, as well as white discharge.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Many STIs can cause vulvar irritation, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, genital warts, and genital herpes.
- Vulvar cancer: Symptoms can include persistent itching, stinging, or bleeding, redder or paler skin than usual, the appearance of a rash, lumps, or ulcers, or pain in the pelvis. Vulvar cancer is rare.
Symptoms will vary based on what is causing the irritation. In some cases, the symptoms appear on the vulva; other times, a person may notice symptoms in other areas.
Irritants or allergens
If irritants or allergens are the cause of irritation, a person may also experience stinging or burning.
If irritants are causing the problem, a person will usually notice symptoms soon after they have come into contact with an irritant, such as soaps, perfumes, or lubricants. An allergen may not cause symptoms for a few days. A person can have an allergic reaction after washing clothes with a different detergent.
The symptoms of STIs vary widely. Some people experience no symptoms at all. Possible symptoms of STIs can include:
- painful urination
- chills or a fever
- pain during or after sex
- bumps, blisters, or sores on the genitals or near the anus
- unexplained spotting or unusual discharge
- an abnormal rash
- pain in the lower abdomen
A yeast infection may cause noticeable symptoms that include:
- an itchy, burning feeling
- pain during sex
- thick white discharge
If hormones are causing the irritation, a person may also experience dryness, tenderness, or stinging. Some people may find that the vulva becomes sensitive to even the lightest touches, such as from wiping after urination.
In some cases, a person may be able to manage their symptoms at home. For example, if a rash appears after using a new soap, it should resolve once a person uses a more sensitive formula.
However, if the condition worsens or there is unexplained pain, discomfort, itching, or burning on the vulva, it is best to speak to a doctor.
A doctor can run tests to determine the cause of the discomfort, pain, or itchiness. Typical tests include urinalysis and vaginal swabs.
The correct treatment will depend on what is causing the discomfort. For example, if dermatitis is the cause, treatment may simply involve identifying and avoiding the irritant.
If a person has an STI, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to treat the infection. While it is possible to cure some STIs, others are conditions that a person will need to manage long term.
If a yeast infection is causing the irritation, an over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal cream will usually resolve the symptoms. If the infection does not clear, a doctor may need to prescribe a stronger medicated cream.
A doctor can treat bacterial infections, including UTIs, with a course of antibiotics.
Home remedies for rashes, skin conditions, and irritation due to hormonal changes include:
- using moisturizer
- taking OTC antihistamines
- using anti-itch creams or ointments
- trying oatmeal baths
- applying cold compresses to numb pain
- using lubrication if irritation occurs during sex
In some cases, a person may be able to prevent irritation. For example, if a person shaves, using a sharp razor or leaving some hair in the area can help prevent folliculitis.
When to see a doctor
People should seek medical attention from a doctor if:
- there is no explanation for the irritation
- the irritation worsens
- they experience pain during sex
- they have other symptoms, such as fever or chills
These can be signs of medical issues that a doctor can help treat.
An irritated vulva can be due to many different issues. In some cases, it is possible to relieve the irritation at home using home remedies.
If a person is concerned about vulvar irritation, they should consider seeing a doctor. Most medical causes of an irritated vulvar resolve with treatments, such as antibiotics or antifungal creams.