| Caroline Knight
Lichen Sclerosus (LS): What it is and How to Manage Symptoms
What is it?
Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a skin condition affecting the skin of genitalia, although it can also affect skin on other parts of the body, such as the breasts, shoulders, upper arms and back. LS causes white patches to appear on the skin, but these only tend to itch in the genital area. It can be made worse (or even triggered by) friction or skin damage, which is known as a ‘Koebner response'.
Lichen sclerosus commonly affects post-menopausal women, but does sometimes affects children and men too. Unfortunately there is no known cause of lichen sclerosus, but an overactive immune system is considered to be the most likely cause.
LS often affects people for a number of years, but the symptoms may come and go during that period. Since it isn’t an infection, you can’t catch it or spread it through sexual intercourse. Lichen sclerosus is rarely hereditary, but there are instances in which it has afflicted relatives.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms and treatment of LS:
Symptoms of lichen sclerosus in the genital area
Lichen sclerosus usually affects the vulva and skin around the anus.
- Small white patches (which may increase in size and join together)
- The white patches becoming cracked, sore and itchy
- Fragile and thinned skin
- Wrinkling or thickening of the skin
- Blood blisters
- Scar tissue or tightened skin around the vulva (if treatment is not undertaken)
- Shrinking of the vulva and entrance to the vagina (if treatment is not undertaken)
- Painful sex (dyspareunia)
- Pain when defecating or constipation
- Problems urinating (or worsening symptoms from urine leakage)
- Disturbed sleep (since the symptoms tend to worsen at night)
Best ways to manage lichen sclerosus
Lichen sclerosus tends to be quite uncomfortable, and can undoubtedly cause frustration, worry and distress. However, there are some relatively simple treatment options that can greatly ease or control the symptoms, so there is no need to panic if you think you have it. Although there is no cure at this time, here are the best ways to treat the symptoms of lichen sclerosus:
- Topical steroid medication (prescribed by your Doctor)
- Using vaginal dilators to help with painful sex
- Using a non-irritating lubricant (especially during sex or with dilator use)
- Application of barrier cream (e.g. petroleum jelly) before and after urinating
- Application of barrier cream after washing
- Wearing loose, unrestrictive clothing
- Wear underwear made from natural materials like bamboo, cotton or silk
Worst-case scenario (e.g. with tightening and scarring), surgery can divide adhesions or reopen the entrance to the vagina. However, as a preventative measure, vaginal dilators can also help to keep it at its normal capacity.
Some things to avoid if you have LS:
- Soap and bubble bath - use emollient wash or simple water instead
- Wearing tights or nylon materials
- Using incontinence pads or liners if possible
- Scratching or rubbing the affected areas
If you find that your symptoms are not responding to the above solutions, or getting much worse, you should consult your healthcare provider. It is possible (although highly unlikely) that lichen sclerosus can turn into skin cancer - so if steroid creams don’t work, or you develop thickened skin or ulceration that won’t shift after a couple of weeks, it is important to get this checked out.
Vaginal Dilators can assist with the penetration pain during intercourse associated with lichen sclerosis by stretching out the tissue relaxing muscles.
If you are thinking of using vaginal dilators for lichen sclerosus and need any assistance, feel free to get in touch with us or take a look around the site, as we have so much information designed to inform and assist you in handling your sexual health conditions. We are here to help!