5 Symptoms of a Vulvar Disease You Shouldn't Ignore

Pain or discomfort in your vulvar region can make it impossible to enjoy sex, and it can turn every day into a morass of anxiety and uncomfortable squirming trying to find relief. You shouldn’t ignore warning signs like itching or burning, as these could be early symptoms of vulvar disease.

At the OB/GYN practice of Gae Rodke, MD, FACOG, in the Upper West Side of New York City, you can get answers about your vulvar discomfort. Dr. Rodke has been treating women with gynecological issues using open, honest, evidence-based care for more than 30 years, and she can diagnose vulvar disease and prescribe appropriate treatment. 

Vulvar disease basics

The vulva is the external portion of a woman’s genitals, including the outer and inner labia. Vulvar disease is a generalized term that refers to a range of conditions that can affect your vulva. Vulvar conditions can be dermatological in nature and affect the outside of the vulva, or the causes can be due to internal issues.

Five vulvar symptoms you shouldn’t ignore

If you have any of the following symptoms, you just may need to change your vulvar care routine to avoid topical irritation. However, these symptoms could also be a sign of some type of vulvar disease that needs specialized care. In either case, Dr. Rodke can help.

  1. Swelling of the vulva, which can also make friction with underwear uncomfortable
  2. Itching or burning, especially during urination or sexual intercourse
  3. Abnormal vaginal discharge and/or odor
  4. Bumps, sores, blisters, or raised red areas
  5. Inflammation of the hair follicles in the vulvar area

Of these, itching, burning, and pain are the most common symptoms. These can signal that you’re having an allergic reaction to something, such as a hair-removal cream, a body wash, or a laundry detergent or softener, or they can be a sign of something more serious. Any of the above symptoms should prompt you to have your vulva checked by a gynecologist.

Common vulvar diseases

The most common vulvar diseases can cause ongoing irritation and symptoms if not treated. Some may come and go, while others may be chronic.

Contact dermatitis 

This condition occurs when the skin on your vulva is irritated by an allergen, such as sweat, soap, clothing fibers, or even a food allergy.


This condition causes small, red bumps around hair follicles, and can be caused by shaving, waxing, or friction on the vulva. 


Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain without an identifiable cause. It often begins after a first gynecological exam or first sexual intercourse.

Bartholin gland cysts 

The Bartholin glands produce lubricant for the vagina, but if a cyst grows on a gland, it can block the lubrication. The condition can also cause vaginal dryness and pain. 

Lichen disorders

In addition to the vulvar conditions mentioned above, lichen disorders are extremely common in women ages 30 and older. Lichen conditions can cause white patchy skin, red painful patches, or small bumps that are flat and hard.

Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus causes intense vulvar itching and can raise your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can affect your arms, legs, vulva, and other areas. It usually presents as small, flat, purple bumps that itch. Experts believe it’s an autoimmune disorder.

Lichen simplex chronicus

Lichen simplex chronicus is an itchy condition that can cause your vulvar skin to become thick and leathery due to constant irritation and scratching.  

Do you have vulvar symptoms? We can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with the practice of Gae Rodke, MD, FACOG, today.

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