Female genital sores are bumps and lesions in or around the vagina. Some sores may be itchy, painful, tender, or produce a discharge — and some may not cause any symptoms.
Bumps or sores on the genitals sometimes happen for no reason and resolve on their own. Some may be due to certain skin disorders, but they may also be symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
STIs affect all populations and can make a huge impact on public health. Young women are especially at risk for developing serious long-term health complications as a result of untreated infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
STIs, in general, are also associated with symptoms such as:
There are some chronic skin conditions that may produce sores and symptoms such as itching, burning, and pain. Examples of such conditions include:
- eczema, a skin inflammation often caused by allergies
- vulvovaginitis, an inflammation of the vulva and vagina
- contact dermatitis, a sensitivity to chemicals, detergents, and perfumes
- ingrown hairs
- infected scratch
The most common causes of female genital sores are STIs, which can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. STIs can also be spread through the sharing of sex toys.
STIs that may cause female genital sores include:
A physical examination can help determine the cause of female genital sores. Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and ask you about your medical history. They may also order tests, such as blood work or a culture of the sore, to determine the cause.
A culture involves taking a swab sample from the affected area and testing it for the presence of bacteria.
Once the cause has been determined, your doctor will be able to tell you what treatment you’ll need to help relieve the sores.
A doctor should evaluate any genital bumps or sores to determine the cause and prevent potentially dangerous medical complications. It’s also important to find out if the cause is an STI so you can find treatment and avoid spreading it to sexual partners.
While you’re waiting for your appointment, a sitz bath can help relieve any pain and discomfort. You can make a sitz bath at home by filling the bathtub with warm water that goes up to your hips when you’re seated. You may then add a mild saline solution or baking soda to the water.
You can also purchase a small basin for a sitz bath from a drugstore and use it instead of a bathtub.
The exact form of treatment depends on the causes of genital sores.
Topical and oral medications may treat the sores and relieve pain. Your doctor may prescribe:
- antiviral medications
- pain relievers
- hydrocortisone or other anti-itch drugs
Other genital sores, such as noncancerous cysts, don’t require treatment, but you may have them removed if they’re bothersome.
Practicing safe sex by using condoms can help stop the spread of STIs that may cause genital sores.
If you have an STI diagnosis, speak with your sexual partner(s) about getting tested and treated to avoid reinfection and possibly spreading the disease to another partner or even back to you.
Additionally, you and your partner should avoid sexual contact until after treatment. It’s possible to spread an STI back and forth.
Genital sores due to skin conditions or allergic reactions may be more difficult to prevent. Avoid known irritants, such as abrasive soaps or strong fragrances. Cysts and ingrown hairs can be reduced with careful washing. Also avoid shaving any red, swollen, or infected areas.
The long-term outlook for female genital sores depends on the cause. In most cases, sores can be cured with treatment. However, sores due to genital herpes or a chronic skin condition may recur.
Your outlook also depends on timing of treatment. Untreated STIs can cause serious health complications for women, including:
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- scarring of the reproductive organs
- increased risk for ectopic pregnancy
Talk to your doctor about long-term treatment options for these types of conditions to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and help avoid outbreaks.
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