There are many vulval and vaginal conditions that cause women a lot of angst such as thrush, bacterial vaginosis, vaginal atrophy (vaginal dryness due to menopause) and many more. Embarrassment commonly prevents women from seeking help. This is an area of the body that should not be ignored and the female specialist GPs are very comfortable discussing these issues.
A consultation will usually involve history taking, an internal vaginal examination as well as swabs and urine tests being taken.
Symptoms that warrant review are:
- Irritation, burning, itching, chafing, or other discomfort.
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Any vaginal bleeding that is not a period such as bleeding with sexual intercourse
- Vaginal pain on urination
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, especially if it is offensive smelling or coloured.
- Vaginal sores or lesions
- Lumps and bumps
How can you minimise irritation to the vagina and vulva?
- Wear underwear made of natural fibres such as cotton and change underwear daily. Consider going without underwear when possible e.g., going to bed.
- Avoid, or at least limit, time spent wearing tight-fitting underwear, pantyhose/tights, jeans or trousers as this may lead to sweating. Also limit time in a damp or wet bathers or active wear.
- Wash clothing with non-perfumed or low-allergenic washing products. Avoid use of fabric softeners. Consider second-rinsing if symptoms persist.
- Avoid use of feminine hygiene sprays and douching. Avoid pads, tampons and toilet paper which are scented.
- Avoid shaving or waxing the genital area, particularly if irritation is present.
- Gently wash skin of the genital area only with plain water. Or, use soap alternatives such as Cetaphil®, QV wash®, or Dermaveen® and avoid soap, liquid soap, bubble bath and shower gels. Always pat dry (don't rub).
- You can continue to be sexually active and in fact it may improve your symptoms. Sexual activities, whether with a partner or masturbation, improve blood flow and help maintain healthy tissue. Consider using a vaginal lubricant.
- Practice safe sex in new relationships, in order to reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases atrophy by decreasing blood flow to the genital area and directly affecting vaginal cells, as well as threatening your overall health