What is Vulvodynia?
Women who experience pain in the vulva (external female genitals) or around the opening of the vagina, persistent for more than 3 months without any specific cause is called ‘vulvodynia’. Women often describe their discomfort as irritation, burning, itching, stinging and stabbing. It can affect women of any age group, reproductive stage and ethnicities.
There is no definite cause of vulvar pain. Studies have not yet found any specific reason for such a pain and burning sensation. Below mentioned are certain contributing factors, which may lead to discomfort:
- Vaginal infections that cause inflammation
- Having a sensitive skin or skin allergies
- Weak pelvic floor
- Injury to the nerves surrounding the vulvar region
- History of sexual abuse
- Hormonal changes
Home Remedies for Vulvodynia
Here are some home remedies to treat vulvodynia effectively:
A warm compress or heat therapy can reduce the pain in the vulvar area. It is a simple, cheap and convenient way to relieve pain and discomfort.
A warm compress increases the blood flow and improves circulation due to increased temperature. It soothes the muscles and helps them to relax. Thus, it can be helpful for females who experience a lot of pain and discomfort in the vulvar area.
Some females benefit from warm compress but, for some cold compress is more effective and relaxing. It decreases pain and burning sensation by reducing the activity of nerve endings in the muscles.
Cold therapy has an analgesic effect that slows down the speed of nerve conduction of pain impulses. This reduces the signals being sent to the brain and further lowers the sensation of pain perceived. Hence, cold compress is an effective home treatment for vaginal pain and itching.
Keep the Skin Moist
It is important to keep the skin around the vulvar region well hydrated and moist. Having a dry skin can cause itching and burning, which could further aggravate the condition. Your doctor may recommend a hypoallergenic moisturizer or a barrier cream, which should be applied to the vulva. You can even use an oil to keep the area moist.
Salt Water Bath
- For an effective saltwater bath, add 2-3 cups of salt to a bathtub
- Fill this tub with lukewarm water, stir well and allow the salt to dissolve
- Sit in this relaxing salt bath for at least 20-30 minutes
If the pain is due to an infection, the salt water bath is very effective. It helps in clearing the bacteria and fungus and prevents their colonization.
Such an action is due to the anti-bacterial property of the salt. It helps one to get rid of bacterial and fungal infections and further helps in maintaining hygiene too.
A yeast infection (vaginal) can cause itching, irritation and burning sensation while urinating or during intercourse. This feeling of discomfort can be reduced by treating the infection correctly.
One simple way to get rid of this infection is regular consumption of cranberry juice. This juice is not just a refreshing beverage, but it does contain certain healthy compounds that eradicate the fungus that causes vaginal infection.
It helps in maintaining the pH balance and prevents overgrowth of infection causing fungi. A regular consumption of fresh cranberry juice can help in flushing out the yeast.
Note: Make sure you drink fresh cranberry juice in order to get rid of the vaginal infection. Do not replace the fresh juice with sugar-laden packaged cranberry juice, which contains color, chemicals and preservatives.
You can prepare fresh cranberry juice at home by blending together cranberries, lemon juice, and some water. Enjoy the natural taste of cranberry juice and do not add any sweetener to it.
Coconut oil is a great lubricant as well as a natural anti-bacterial agent. Applying coconut oil daily reduces itching, pain and burning sensation in the vulvar area.
Lauric acid present in coconut oil helps in the complete elimination of the bacteria, which could be a cause of vulvar pain and itching.
Besides this, coconut oil helps in maintaining the correct pH and keeps the skin moisturized, which further helps in treating vaginal dryness and burning sensation. Apply coconut oil twice a day for best results.
Leaves of the plant called Neem (Azadirachta indica) are very effective when it comes to treating bacterial and fungal infections. These infections, if left untreated, can affect the vaginal health and cause itching, burning sensation, and pain in the vulvar area.
Neem is a natural antiseptic that fights bacterial and fungal infections and keeps the area clean and healthy. Leaves of Neem kill the bacteria and prevent inflammation of the vulva. Women in India have been using Neem leaves bath for centuries to treat their vulvar problems.
Here are some ways to use neem effectively:
- Wash the neem leaves carefully and make sure they are free of dirt. Boil a handful of neem leaves in 4-5 cups of water and strain it. Allow it to cool. Use this neem water to rinse the area. Repeat this procedure twice a day
- If you do not have access to fresh neem leaves, you can even use neem oil. Add a drop or two of organic neem oil to a cup of lukewarm water. Use this water to rinse the area.
- Drinking neem tea daily is also helpful for individuals with vulvar discomfort
Role of Diet and Nutrition in the management of Vulvodynia
Here are some dietary guidelines that can help to reduce the symptoms of vulvodynia.
The Low Oxalate Diet
Following a low oxalate diet is a popular treatment method for vulvodynia or painful vulva. Studies published in the 1990s have mixed results.
Research has reported that the females with vulvodynia have high oxalate content in their urine. Therefore, following a low oxalate diet may help in reducing the oxalate content in the urine and may further reduce the symptoms of vulvodynia.
It was further reported that after following this diet for a year, symptoms of vulvodynia disappeared completely. However, such a diet may not be beneficial for all. Some studies have even reported that intake of oxalates in the diet has nothing to do with the vulvar pain and burning.
Here is a list of foods that contain high oxalate content, which need to be avoided while following a low oxalate diet:
- Soy and soy foods- soy milk, tofu, soy flour, soy yogurt
- Nut and nut butter, for example- almond butter and hazelnut butter
- Bran cereal
- Whole Wheat
- Black tea and coffee
Vulvodynia is often associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A study published in 2016 found that use of a customized elimination diet helped in resolving recurrent vulvodynia and multigenerational IBS.
A connection between food sensitivities and vulvodynia was identified in the study. Foods that triggered pain and discomfort in the vulvar area were eliminated without any caloric restriction.
After following the elimination diet for 1 week, an improvement in the symptoms was observed. However, re-introduction of the eliminated foods (soy and gluten-containing foods) during the 2nd week, aggravated vulvar pain and burning sensation.
Complete elimination of soy and gluten foods helped in relieving the vulvar pain as well as improved the quality of life.
Note: The elimination diet is different for each female suffering from vulvar pain and discomfort. The patient and the doctor need to observe the food pattern and identify the foods that aggravate pain and discomfort.
Tips for Reducing Vulvar Pain
Choose the Right Innerwear
The type of underwear you wear plays a huge role in maintaining the health of the external female genitals. Wearing a white or light-colored cotton underwear is the right choice for women with vulvodynia.
Wearing a dark-colored underwear, besides cotton-based fabric can be harsh on the skin and cause discomfort. Do not wear underwear to bed.
Choose the Right Clothing
Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight around the vulvar area. Wear pants or skirts that are loose fitting and comfortable.
Avoid Perfumed Products
- Do not use tampons and sanitary pads with deodorants.
- Do not clean the vulvar area with perfumed soaps, shampoos and liquids because these products may contain irritants.
- Clean the area with plain water.
- Do not use the coluored and scented toilet papers. Choose for white, unscented and soft toilet papers only.
Wash the underwear and all the other clothing that comes in contact with the vulva properly. Rinse these clothes twice and do not use fabric softeners on the undergarments.
Keep it Moisturized
If you have a dry skin, avoid applying scented creams and lotions to the vulva. These products contain high chemical content, which can further cause itching and irritation.
Simply apply coconut oil after bath to lock in the moisture, which can then act as a protective layer all throughout the day.
Some Points to Keep in Mind
- Wash and rinse the area with cool water after sexual activity and urination.
- Avoid hot tubs or swimming pools that contain chlorinated water.
- Use a water-soluble lubricant during sexual activity or intercourse.
- Avoid activities that put an additional pressure on the vulvar area, such as bicycling.
- During summer season change your underwear twice a day.
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- Fahami F, Behmanesh F, Valiani H, Effect Of Heat Therapy On Pain Severity In Primigravida Women, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, Volume 1, 2011 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22039388)
- Kannan, Natrajan, Comparative Evaluation Of Antifungal Activity Of Cocos Nucifera Oil Against Candida Albicans, International Journal of Phytotherapy Research, Volume 4, 2014 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268745882)
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- Jessica Drummond, Deborah Ford, Stephanie Daniel, Vulvodynia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treated With an Elimination Diet: A Case Report, Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, Volume 4, 2016 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991650/)
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- Balamurugan, S. Vijayakumar, S. Prabhu, Traditional plants used for the treatment of gynecological disorders in Vedaranyam taluk, South India – An ethnomedicinal survey, Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Volume 8, 2018 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411017300718)