It’s known that tampons can sometimes feel uncomfortable. But also sanitary pads can cause pain. Painful sanitary pads? Why does this happen? And how to solve it?
You’re suffering from chafing and/or pad rash
Even the softest sanitary pads can start to irritate. For example because you don’t change them often enough. Because you wear clothes that aren’t breathable and/or too tight, which cause a warm and moist environment down there. Or because you intensively practise spinning, mountain biking or horse back riding.
Change your sanitary pads regularly, even if they still feel ‘dry’. The plasticised anti-leaking layer can cause moist and warm conditions which bacteria love. Don’t wear sanitary pads or panty liners every day; the moisture absorbing surface can dry out the skin and cause irritations. Last but not least: if you’re suffering from pad rash, try a different brand or even a whole different product like washable sanitary pads, a menstrual cup, tampons or period panties.
You’re suffering from contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a reaction that occurs when the skin comes in contact with certain substances that irritate it, causing skin inflammation. This could be something that’s in your panty liners or sanitary pads. Sanitary towels contain all kinds of substances to make them lovely smelling, super absorbing and pristine white. These chemicals can lead to irritations, which show as itching, redness, a scaly skin, a burning sensation, bumps or blisters. In most cases this is called irritant contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis, when people have become allergic to a certain material, is less common.
Step one, of course, is avoiding the irritant. First off, try a different make of sanitary pads, at least some which are hypoallergenic and unperfumed. Doesn’t help? Then it might be a good idea to visit a GP to see what could be the cause.
You’re suffering from inexplicable itchiness or pain
Sometimes your nose itches, sometimes it’s your vagina. No big deal. But if this itch becomes unbearable and feels like you’ve got ants in your pants, it’s time to look for the cause. Scratching leads to wounds, wounds itch when they heal, and before you know it you’re in a vicious circle of itching and scratching. Vaginal itching can be caused by lots of things, like a yeast infection (candida), a skin disease, irritant contact dermatitis or a genital infection. It can also be a symptom of a more serious issue, so do visit a GP.
Avoid washing with a lot of soap and hot water. Don’t use perfumed washing powder or perfumed sanitary pads. Avoid tight clothing and synthetic underwear and make sure it doesn’t get too hot down under, as this will increase the itch. If all of the above doesn’t help, do visit a doctor to find out the cause.
You’re suffering from pain anyway
About 2% of women over the age of 18 suffer from chronic vulvar pain, also when they aren’t wearing sanitary pads. The medical term for this pain with no known anatomic or neurologic cause is ‘vulvodynia’. Sex, inserting tampons, wearing tight pants or trousers and even using sanitary pads can cause or increase this pain.
In order to treat vulvodynia, it first needs to be clear what causes it. And that’s exactly where the problem lies. Often the cause stays unknown and only the symptoms are treated, for example by applying anaesthetic cream.
You’re suffering from something completely different
Irritating sanitary pads don’t have to point in the direction of a medical problem. But if this occurs often, do get a medical check-up as the irritation could be caused by an underlying problem. Genital herpes, for example, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) with nasty symptoms such as pain when passing urine, swollen lymph nodes and genital sores. Around the time of menstruation these symptoms can get worse. Annoying, because then even the softest sanitary towels can irritate. Also chronical skin diseases like lichen sclerosis, lichen planus and psoriasis can appear around the vagina, which leads to pain, itching and more complaints. In those cases, even wearing an innocent sanitary pad can be troublesome.
Study yourself with a little mirror. Do you see things that don’t belong around your vagina, like blisters, skin flakes, bumps or discolouration? Immediately go and see a GP to prevent it from getting worse. The name ‘chronic’ is a bit of a giveaway here: unfortunately you’ll never get completely rid of some diseases. However, with the right type of treatment the complaints will usually get a lot less severe.