Squamous hyperplasia is a medical condition that presents as abnormal, usually itchy growths on the female vulva. The vulva is basically the entire external female reproductive system; in humans, it includes the labia, the clitoris, and the vaginal opening. Skin problems related to hyperplasia can happen anywhere in this region and tend to be very uncomfortable. As with so many skin conditions, itching will make the problem worse and can actually change its appearance, which can make accurate diagnosis more challenging. In most cases the problem is caused by chemical irritation; things like lotions, soaps, and laundry detergents are most commonly to blame. Internal chemical imbalances or other vaginal irritants can be factors, too. Treatment is usually straightforward, but medication is almost always required. Women who try to let the problem resolve itself often end up with much more serious complications that can sometimes develop into other related and often more serious complications.
Squamous hyperplasia, also sometimes known as squamous cell hyperplasia, hyperplastic dystrophy, leukoplakia or vulvar hyperplasia, is most often characterized by itchy red lesions, or openings on the skin that look like sores. These lesions can range in size. They usually start small but grow as the irritation intensifies. People with this condition typically present with a vulva that has a a pinkish-red tone with raised white or red patches. The condition may take on a number of different appearances, though, owing in part to the effects of medicine, soap, or incessant scratching on the part of the sufferer.
Areas of the vulva that are most frequently subjected to this abnormal skin growth include the inner labia, outer labia, clitoral hood, and posterior commissure. The lesions also may spread to the thighs and down the legs, but usually only in very advanced cases.
One of the most defining symptoms of this condition is pruritus, or intense itching. This itching is what often brings sufferers to seek medical help. Women with the condition may also experience anxiety and irritability as a result of the discomfort and the loss of sleep caused by the itching itself. A physician may prescribe anti-anxiety medication for this.
The condition is almost always caused by external irritants. Women who use a lot of flowery or heavily scented products on or near their vulvas are usually most at risk, though a lot of this depends on individual skin chemistry. There are some people who have no problem using pretty much any product, no matter how severe or intense it is, while others with more sensitive skin react to things much more easily.
Physicians who are familiar with the condition often suspect it on first sight, but a biopsy or scraped skin evaluation is usually required for a formal diagnosis. The first step in treatment is usually to prescribe something to relieve the itching, such as topical corticosteroids. The steroids may take some time to take effect. Long-term use of steroid creams or ointments is typical if the condition is chronic, and it often is. Along with steroid treatment, women with this condition should decrease their exposure to vulvar irritants, including dyed toilet paper and perfumes, including those found in soaps and laundry detergents.
There are times when squamous cell hyperplasia will be present along with other vulvar conditions. Lichen sclerosus is one example. Small, white, shiny spots in the vulvar area are the first symptom of lichen sclerosus. These spots commonly turn into bigger patches on the skin that get thin and crinkle; they tear easily, causing bright red and purple bruising. If a woman has lichen sclerosis along with hyperplasia, she has an increased chance of developing vulvar cancer. Consistent follow-up with a physician is critical in these cases.
The reproductive organs are just one part of the body, but there are a number of diseases both benign and malignant that may be present in the area. After a woman has squamous hyperplasia, she and her physician should monitor that area of her body for future disease. Of patients with this condition, around 4 percent usually go on to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva, which can lead to cancerous growths that can spread elsewhere in the body.