Vulvodynia, a chronic pain condition of the vulva, affects up to 15 percent of women at some point in their lives. For some women, it resolves itself with treatment or gradually improves over time, but a lot of women have it permanently.
• Pain at the vulva (the opening to the vagina) and the surrounding areas.
• A specific sore area on the vulva that is more painful than other areas. If you imagine a clock face over the vulva, this sore area is usually at the 5 o clock point
• Shooting or stabbing pains in the vulva.
• Pain when wearing tight clothing, such as jeans.
• Contact pain (pain when cycling, sitting on hard chairs, trying to insert tampons)
• Pain when attempting sexual intercourse.
• Sore, dry skin.
• Feeling as if the area is swollen even when there is no visible sign.
• Redness when there is no infection or other cause.
• Itching, irritation.
If the usual treatment of anti-depressants to alter nerve function is not having an effect on you, there are other ways to ease the pain of vulvodynia and get your life back.
Get Tested for Infection
A lot of vulvodynia sufferers test positive for E-coli and candida bacteria. Some have repeated infections that do not respond to treatment. Some specialists believe that vulvodynia is caused by chronic candida or an over-sensitivity or allergy to candida. If in doubt, ask your gynaecologist for a series of swabs to check for its presence. You can also be tested for candida antibodies that would show whether you are allergic.
Long term treatment with an anti-thrush drug may then be given. This should be in tablet form, rather than topical as the topical creams can actually trigger vulvodynia.
Some women have found that using tea tree cream regularly on the affected areas eases their symptoms. Tea tree and neem pessaries are available from some online stores and natural health shops. They are very antiseptic and can prevent infections and reduce or stop symptoms like burning when urinating.
Get Your Hormone Levels Tested
If you suffer from dry skin, get blood tested to check your hormone levels. If you are low in estrogen, this may cause dry vaginal skin. If you have hormonal contraceptives, consider using a different method as some women get vulvodynia after using the pill. Aqueous cream or a natural gel like aloe vera gel applied daily can help avoid dry skin.
Wear Loose Clothing
Avoid tight jeans, lace underwear, thongs and nylon tights, which can all irritate. If you are in the house and not going out, consider not wearing underwear as this will allow the area to breathe.
Modify your Diet
Cut all yeast products out of your diet and eat foods that are low in oxalates. Oxalates make the urine more acidic which can cause vulval pain. Vulval pain support groups can advise you on which foods are low in oxalates.
Drink plenty of water as this dilutes your urine.
You Don’t Have to Suffer
Lidocaine anaesthetic gel can be applied to the vulva and any other painful areas to stop pain or allow you to have sexual intercourse without pain. Kegel exercises have been shown to reduce pain in some women. Acupuncture has also had some effect at reducing the pain. Remember, you don’t have to suffer in silence and if a doctor tells you there’s nothing they can do, find another doctor or go to a patient advocacy group who can support you.
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.