Vaginal itching and dryness can be uncomfortable and distressing to deal with, especially if you don’t know what’s causing the symptoms. Due to the intimate nature of these symptoms, some women are often embarrassed to discuss them, even with their doctor. So how can genital itching and dryness be resolved?
What’s Behind Genital Itching And Dryness?
While there are several possible causes of genital itching and dryness, these symptoms are often related to a condition known as lichen sclerosus. The skin disorder belongs to the family of skin dermatoses that includes eczema and psoriasis.
Lichen sclerosus can affect women of all ages but is very common in post-menopausal women.
Lichen sclerosus is a chronic non-infectious skin condition that typically affects the vulva in women. It causes vulva itching, cuts/cracks, fissures and scaring. Scarring can narrow the vaginal opening and lead to painful intercourse. Women with the skin disorder may also experience general discomfort in the vaginal area.
The persistent itching associated with lichen sclerosus makes women want to scratch, which can cause the skin to become sore and irritated.
If lichen sclerosus goes untreated for a long time, the skin becomes shiny, sticky, wrinkly, and thin, making it prone to small tears. Lichen sclerosus also causes large white patches to develop on the skin.
As lichen sclerosus evolves, it can change the appearance and size of the vagina by causing the labia minora and labia majora (small and large lips of the vagina) to fuse. This situation can make the clitoris less sensitive and lead to painful intercourse. When lichen sclerosus is treated promptly, it is unlikely to progress to this stage.
Getting A Diagnosis
Getting a diagnosis for lichen sclerosus is often challenging because subtle changes in the vaginal tissue may not be apparent to an untrained eye. Because of this, women with the condition often get misdiagnosed or have their symptoms dismissed.
Doctors unfamiliar with lichen sclerosus may not recognize the disorder and miss the early signs. For this reason, women with symptoms of lichen sclerosus should consult with a gynecologist with the specialist knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat the condition.
Lichen Sclerosus Treatment
Medical researchers are unclear about the underlying etiology of lichen sclerosus, so there is no cure for the condition. However, they do believe that it may have an autoimmune connection. Fortunately, with timely diagnosis and proper treatment, the disorder can be managed effectively.
Severe cases of lichen sclerosus are treated with high-dose class 1 corticosteroids. However, moderate cases of the condition can be treated with class 3 corticosteroids and mild cases should be treated with class 7 corticosteriods that are specially formulated.
It can take up to 4 months for patients to experience an improvement in symptoms of lichen sclerosus. Once the disorder is under control, a maintenance cream can be used to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Genital itching and dryness may often be caused by chemical irritants in soaps, vaginal wipes, douches, feminine sprays, and similar products. Detergents and fabric softeners used on clothing can also irritate the vaginal area.
At Fowler GYN International (FGI) they advise women with lichen sclerosus to switch to using hypocontactant skincare products. Making this change is essential because soaps and other hygiene products used on the vagina may contain chemicals that can irritate the delicate vaginal tissues.
Hypocontactant skincare products do not contain irritating chemicals and fragrances, so they can be safely used in the vaginal area.