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Genital Irritation In Females

Definition

Genital irritation in females is any condition that causes discomfort in the female genitalia. The hymen or outer lips of the vagina and labia, the clitoris, and the vulva are parts of the external female genitalia. The internal female genitalia include the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

What is going on in the body?

The female external genitalia have a rich blood supply. As a result, even minor conditions can cause irritation to the area. Irritation to the female genitalia can range from mild itching or discomfort to severe, intense pain. It may occur suddenly or last a long time.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

There are many causes of genital irritation, including:
  • chemical irritation to the lining of the genitals, such as from soaps, bubble bath, or laundry detergent
  • infection, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, herpes (HSV), or human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • other infections, including vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and cervical infections
  • inflammation of the genitals, such as cervicitis or vaginitis
  • conditions causing increased vaginal discharge, such as erosion, which is an ulceration of the cervical lining
  • trauma, especially to the cervix, which may be caused by intercourse, tampon insertion, or speculum insertion during a pelvic exam
  • tumors, growths, or cancer
  • certain medications, including hormones, antibiotics, antihistamines
  • hormone changes or imbalances
  • autoimmune disorders, which are conditions in which a person's immune system attacks his or her own body for no apparent reason
  • tight-fitting clothing
  • inadequate lubrication prior to intercourse
  • traumatic sexual experiences, including rape
  • previous surgery, including D&C or hysterectomy

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Protecting the genitalia from such conditions as trauma, irritating soaps, and exposure to STIs, may decrease the risk of irritation. Wearing properly fitted clothing and cotton-lined underwear may also help. A woman should seek early care for possible infections.
Many causes can not be prevented.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

A thorough medical history and physical exam will be performed as the first step in diagnosing the cause of the genital irritation. The healthcare professional may order tests such as:
  • a pelvic exam and Pap smear
  • blood tests
  • an examination of the vagina and cervix called a colposcopy
  • x-rays and scans, such as ultrasound of the pelvic organs
  • cultures of any discharge
  • biopsy

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Genital irritation caused from sensitivity to bubble bath may heal without any long-term effects. Genital irritation from infection such as vulvovaginal candidiasis (yeast infection) may require extended use of antifungal agents or long-term suppressive therapy with agents such as boric acid suppositories. A person with a history of chronic irritation may need a low dose corticosteroid ointment for a long time. Some injuries or infections may lead to permanent damage or pain, and may cause infertility.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Genital irritation itself is not contagious and poses no risk to others. But, if the cause is an infection such as an STI, the infection may be contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

When an injury occurs, an ice pack may be applied to reduce pain and swelling. A warm sitz bath may be soothing. Ointments or special foam may be prescribed to relieve pain, itching, and to treat infection. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for infections.
Those with cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Surgery may be needed for those who have damage to their genitalia.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or an allergic reaction, or may predispose to yeast infections. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or an allergic reaction to the anesthetic.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

A woman may not need further treatment for minor irritation. If she was treated for an STI, sexual partners should be notified.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

Sources

Understanding Your Body, Felicia Stewart, Felicia Guest, Gary Stewart, and Robert Hatcher, 1987

Maternity and Gynecological Care, The Nurse and the Family, Irene Bobak, Margaret Jensen, Marianne Zalar, Mosby Co., 1989

Professional Guide to Signs and Symptoms, Sringhouse, 1997

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