Vaginal sores or blisters on the vagina are symptoms of a variety of diseases that are caused by both sexual & non-sexual causes. Since vaginal sores from various conditions can seem similar in appearance, you must visit a doctor for a diagnosis when you notice sores on your vagina and around your genital area. Most of these sores are accompanied by pain, itching, swelling, and discharge. Sometimes vaginal sores can also be painless, however, most conditions causing this symptom are extremely contagious.
Since sexually transmitted infections and poor personal hygiene are the most commonly implicated reasons for vaginal sores, it’s important to practice safe sex and maintain a good standard of personal hygiene to avoid contracting these diseases. A lot of the time, these diseases can also be caused by autoimmune factors and skin conditions. It's important to investigate the nature of such vaginal sores and blisters thoroughly to avoid serious long-term complications.
Read on as we discuss what causes vaginal sores, how to treat vaginal sores, and the outlook for conditions associated with this symptom.
What Causes Vaginal Sores?
Vaginal sores are caused by a variety of conditions. The most commonly recognized causes are listed below:
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections or STIs are the most common causes of female genital sores. Several conditions of this nature lead to open sores on the vagina and can be very painful. These conditions are transmitted by vaginal, oral, and anal sex, and blisters & sores are observed in areas such as the vulva, oral cavity, the inner thigh, the anus, and in some cases, the face. Some of the most commonly implicated sexually transmitted infections that cause sores inside the vagina are:
- Syphilis: A bacterial condition transmitted by sexual contact, and also from mother to child during pregnancy - syphilis results in multiple vaginal sores and ulcers called chancres. Syphilis can become a complicated condition to manage in case it is ignored. It results in the deformation of the fetus if the affected individual happens to be pregnant. A prolonged syphilis infection progresses in three stages, and can affect the vital systems of the body. Chancres appear between 1-12 weeks following exposure to the bacteria and take up to 6 weeks to resolve. Most standard STD testing services offer a panel to detect syphilis.
- Genital Herpes: This is one of the most common STIs and affects every 6th person in the adult population. Herpes is a common cause of vaginal sores and blisters. The blisters often break up and result in painful and open sores on the vagina. The condition is caused by two strains of the Herpes Simplex virus - HSV - 1 and HSV - 2. While the latter is more commonly implicated in the disease, the former strain is also known to cause the condition and its associated symptoms. Though genital herpes is not curable, it can be managed with antiviral medications, and the number of outbreaks decreases as the affected individual ages. Since the symptoms of the condition are barely noticeable or are mild in most people, the condition is very likely to be transmitted during sexual contact. Ask for Herpes Simplex Type 2 testing in case you’re concerned about having contracted this viral illness.
- Chlamydia: Another bacterial STI, Chlamydia causes blisters on the vagina that eventually lead to open sores. These vaginal sores are painful, and the condition also results in increased and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. Chlamydia can also infect the cervix, fallopian tubes, and uterus and cause a complication called pelvic inflammatory disease. Prolonged and untreated chlamydia causes fertility issues.
- Chancroid: Chancroid is a bacterial STI that initially causes lumps around the vulvar regions of the vagina. The lumps eventually develop into pustules that are painful and result in discharge. Painful ulceration occurs once the pustules break open and these sores on the vagina bleed easily. When left untreated, these blisters on the vagina can last for up to 3 or 4 months. The appearance of lumps can take anywhere between 10 days to a month following exposure. Treatment with antibiotics helps clear up the infection within a week.
- Granuloma Inguinale: This is a rare bacterial STI that results in vaginal sores that bleed upon touch. Granuloma inguinale is also called Donovanosis. The sores are often a deep red color, however, the blisters on the vagina caused by this condition tend to be painless. This disease can be easily treated using broad-spectrum antibiotics, although the condition is known to recur. Granuloma inguinale is common in tropical regions and is rather rare in temperate climates.
- Molluscum Contagiosum: Though this is a skin condition transmitted sexually, the disease results in bumps and lesions on the vagina. The bumps are also found around the anus, lower abdomen, inner thighs, and buttocks. Sores are often flesh-colored, pearly-white, or pink in color. This condition is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. Most lesions resolve in about a month, however, there have been cases where lesions caused by molluscum contagiosum have lasted for up to four years. Following resolution, the condition is known to recur and cause future episodes of lesions and ulceration.
Other Causes of Vaginal Sores
While blisters on the vagina and vaginal sores are most commonly associated with STI symptoms, there also exist several causes apart from sexually transmitted infections. Some of the important non-STI causes of female genital ulcers are:
- Yeast Infection: Vaginal yeast infections are some of the most common non-STI causes of vaginal sores. The condition results in inflammation and redness of the skin around the vagina, and the inflammation is accompanied by increased and foul-smelling discharge. Yeast infections can also cause bumps and blisters on the vagina that are tender on the touch and can cause pain during urination and sexual intercourse. The lesions can be itchy, painful, and also result in a burning sensation.
- Chronic Skin Conditions: Inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus, and rarely - lichen sclerosus can affect the vaginal mucosal areas and the vulvar regions. These conditions lead to painful vaginal sores that develop into blisters upon breaking up. Treatment often includes controlling inflammation and addressing the overall skin condition.
- Autoimmune Conditions: Severe manifestations of diseases like Erythema Multiforme, and conditions like non-sexually acquired genital ulceration (NSAGU) can cause painful vaginal ulcers that bleed. The latter is closely associated with celiac disease.
- Allergies/ Hypersensitivity: Reactions of the sensitive skin in the vaginal area can lead to sores and blisters on the vagina. Contact dermatitis resulting from a skin reaction to chemicals or other agents can lead to painful and bleeding ulcers.
- Trauma: Results of improper personal hygiene practices such as an ingrown hair can lead to blistering and ulceration of the vaginal mucosa. Other sources of trauma such as sexual assault can also lead to vaginal sores and ulceration. Be sure to reach out for help using the sexual assault helpline to report an incident and to receive the requisite help.
- Cancer & Cysts: Cancers of the vulvar regions are known to cause painful sores, on the other hand, cysts are often painless and also benign in a majority of the cases.
Diagnosis of Vaginal Sores
- Since most vaginal sores appear similar at first glance, it’s important to approach a medical professional when you notice these ulcers or bumps on your vagina.
- A detailed pelvic exam will be undertaken by your physician to closely examine the nature of the vaginal sores.
- Further testing such as bloodwork, cultures from discharge, and specific STD testing can be advised by your physician.
- Once the cause of genital sores is ascertained, specific and targeted treatment can be administered to address the underlying reason for the blisters and sores.
- Your doctor might also require a detailed medical, surgical, family, menstrual and sexual history to help identify the exact cause of the vaginal sores.
Treatment & Personal Hygiene
- The treatment for genital sores always depends on the underlying cause.
- While bacterial infections are dealt with using antibiotics, viral conditions such as herpes can be managed using antiviral drugs, however, the use of these agents is limited as viral infections are often recurrent and self-limiting in most episodes.
- Fungal infections such as candidiasis and other yeast infections are treated using both oral and topical antifungal agents.
- Pain management for open sores on the vagina and inside the region is by using painkillers.
- Inflammatory conditions causing vaginal sores are commonly addressed with the use of steroid ointments and drugs to manage the inflammation.
- Personal hygiene practices such as maintaining a clean genital area by washing the vagina using gentle saline water or baking soda solution can help you sustain sanitary conditions during treatment. A sitz bath using lukewarm saline water or baking soda water in a bathtub can help you manage the pain.
- Practicing safe sex using condoms, dental dams, and being open about existing conditions is extremely important to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Not addressing vaginal sores and their underlying causes can lead to a variety of complications, such as scarring of the reproductive tract, pelvic inflammatory disease, and can also have serious implications on potential pregnancies. It is important not to ignore vaginal sores so that you can have optimal sexual and general health. Speak to your doctor in case you notice any of the symptoms and request treatment at the earliest.