What Are Vulvar Ulcers?

It is normal to be worried after finding out that you have genital/ vulvar ulcers. But know that you are not alone. Genital ulcers are quite common in women and young adults, especially in those who are sexually active. 

Where is your vulva?

The vulva is the outer part of a woman’s genitals. Vulvar ulcers are sores that appear in this area. Vulvar ulcers can be extremely painful and, in some cases, they may not hurt at all.

Most of the time these lesions are caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but many other non-infectious issues can trigger an ulcer. Vulvar ulcers might start out looking like bumps or a rash. Or, the sores might appear as breaks in your skin that expose tissue.

Symptoms of vulvar ulcers vary, but may include:

  • pain or discomfort
  • itchiness
  • leaky fluid or discharge
  • painful or difficult urination
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • fever

Sometimes, vulvar ulcers don’t cause any symptoms.

Possible causes

There are many possible reasons vulvar ulcers develop, including:

1. STIs

The most common cause of genital ulcers is the herpes simplex virus (HSV), followed by syphilis. Other STIs can lead to ulcers, including:

Additionally, HIV symptoms in some women developing ulcers on their genitals. 

2. Fungal infections

Vulvovaginal candidiasis, also known as vaginal yeast infection, is the most common fungal infection that causes vulvar ulcers or erosions. Other symptoms of yeast infections include:

  • burning during sex and urination
  • itching
  • increased vaginal discharge

3. Viral infections

Certain viruses can cause vulvar ulcers to form:

  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • cytomegalovirus
  • varicella-zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles

4. Bacterial infections

Infections caused by bacteria, such as Group A Streptococcus and mycoplasma, can trigger sores on the vulva. Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics.

Non-sexually acquired genital ulceration (NSAGU)

NSAGU sores are a type of aphthous ulcer. They appear as single or multiple shallow round sores. They tend to be painful and have a creamy-white or grey film and a red halo.

These sores can be caused by underlying health conditions, such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, or be triggered by vitamin deficiencies or hormonal fluctuations.

People who have NSAGU may experience flu-like symptoms before the sores develop, as well as swelling in the genital area.

Most ulcers of this kind heal by themselves within a couple of weeks, though doctors may recommend pain relief. In severe cases, steroids may be prescribed.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction and can develop in response to products, such as washing detergent or bath and shower washes. Poison ivy, nickel, and perfumes can also cause this inflammatory reaction.

Avoiding the allergen is the best way to deal with contact dermatitis, but in severe cases, doctors may recommend steroid treatment.


Varicosities are swollen veins that can appear as blue or purple bumps around the vulva and vagina. They can cause minor discomfort, swelling, and a feeling of pressure in the affected area.

These sores are more likely to occur during pregnancy and ageing. When they occur during pregnancy, they are likely to go away without requiring treatment within 6 weeks of delivery. Support garments and cold compresses can relieve discomfort, and activities that improve blood flow from the pelvis, such as swimming, can also help.

10 Facts about Genital Herpes

Most causes of women’s genital sores are easily treated with a short course of antibiotics, which can be in the form of cream or a pill.

Some conditions, such as herpes, are lifelong, and people who have the herpes virus will experience breakouts from time to time. If someone begins to experience breakouts, they should see their doctor. Other causes, such as contact dermatitis, are self-limiting, meaning they will get better without treatment. As mentioned above, however, it is important to understand what is causing the problem, so as to know how to treat it.


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