Three-Step Approach May Help Relieve One of the Itchiest Vulvar Conditions

Jake Remaly

September 24, 2020

A three-step approach may help relieve itch in patients with lichen simplex chronicus, "one of the itchiest conditions that we ever see on the vulva," an expert advised at the virtual conference on diseases of the vulva and vagina, hosted by the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease.

For some patients, such as those with excessive sweating or underlying psoriasis, seeing a dermatologist may be beneficial, physicians at the meeting suggested.

Treatment should aim to optimize epithelial barrier function, reduce inflammation, and stop scratching, Lynette Margesson, MD, said in a lecture at the biennial meeting, which is held by the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD). "With this condition, please look always for more than one problem."

Lichen simplex chronicus is a thick, hyperkeratotic, firm, itchy rash that can develop on top of any dermatitis. "It doesn't show up out of nowhere," said Dr. Margesson, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H. "It is because of chronic rubbing and scratching on top of something else."

It may develop on top of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or contact dermatitis, as well as infection, lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, or neoplasia.

Lichen simplex chronicus is characterized by years of relentless itching, and patients may wake up at night scratching. The skin looks and feels leathery, and the condition can be localized or around the entire vulva. Heat, humidity, stress, and irritants may exacerbate the condition.

Patients often try to wash the rash away with scrubbers and cleansers, which only makes it worse, Dr. Margesson said.

To get patients better, improve barrier function, such as by controlling infections, reducing sweating, avoiding irritants, and stopping excessive hygiene. Immediate therapy may include soaks, cool compresses, and ointments.

A superpotent steroid taper (e.g., clobetasol 0.05% ointment), a prednisone taper, or intramuscular triamcinolone may reduce inflammation. Dr. Margesson usually uses clobetasol, although this treatment or halobetasol can burn if patients have open skin. In such cases, she uses prednisone or intramuscular triamcinolone.

Sedating medications may help patients stop scratching, especially at night. Hydroxyzine, doxepin, or amitriptyline 2-3 hours before bedtime can help. Scratching can be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a small dose of citalopram may help during the day. Patients with significant psychological factors can be difficult to manage and tend to relapse easily, Dr. Margesson said.

If lichen simplex chronicus recurs, test for infections and allergies. "Maybe they need a mild corticosteroid all the time, like 2.5% hydrocortisone to alternate with your superpotent steroid so you can use it longer without thinning the skin," she suggested.

Although Dr. Margesson does not often treat hyperhidrosis, addressing excessive sweating can make a big difference for patients, she said.

If a gynecologist identifies a patient who may benefit from treatment of hyperhidrosis but has limited experience with medications for this condition, it might make sense to work with a dermatologist, Aruna Venkatesan, MD, chief of dermatology and director of the genital dermatology clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., suggested during a panel discussion. Most dermatologists treat hyperhidrosis regularly, she said.

Dermatologists also may help treat patients with psoriasis who need systemic medication, Dr. Margesson said.

"In terms of ... doing the lab monitoring and knowing what side effects to look out for, your colleagues who use these medicines more are going to be more comfortable with that," Dr. Venkatesan said. They also may have more experience navigating insurance denials to obtain a therapy. "Don't think you are passing the buck to someone else. Sometimes that is the right thing to do, to get that help from someone else."

Dr. Margesson is an author for UpToDate. Dr. Venkatesan had no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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