A Woman Got 2nd Degree Burns From Vaginal Steaming, And It’s Really Not Funny

Remember when the internet was having a field day making fun of vaginal steaming – the latest fad popularised by Gwyneth Paltrow, our modern queen of pseudoscientific health nonsense? Health professionals everywhere immediately started warning people about the risk of burns if you tried this dubious remedy – and now they have an actual medical case to point to.

 

The patient, a 62-year-old woman, had tried vaginal steaming at home on the advice of a traditional Chinese doctor. After two sessions of sitting atop a pan of boiling water mixed with unknown herbs, the results – which included an alarming discharge – sent her looking for help at the emergency department.

Sadly, the reason this woman steamed her lower parts wasn’t for “freshening” or “detoxifying” effects, but rather to try and treat a serious medical condition she’d been struggling with for the past 9 months – stage IV vaginal prolapse.

As the name implies, the prolapse of a woman’s pelvic organs means that the surrounding tissue and muscle are failing to hold everything in place, a condition that can be quite common after childbirth. It’s not always problematic, but this woman’s case was severe, with her entire cervix completely outside the vulva.

The usual treatment for this is surgery, which the patient had been reluctant to have at first. As gynecologist Magali Robert from the University of Calgary, Canada reports in the case study, the woman eventually consented to the procedure.

 

Unfortunately, she also sought the opinion of an alternative practitioner, and the provided home brew caused second-degree burns on her cervix and vagina. These had to be treated with antibiotic ointment, delaying surgery until the woman was fully healed.

“Although vaginal and vulvar burns are considered possible outcomes of vaginal steaming, there have been no documented cases in the medical literature to date,” Robert reports.

Well, there’s always a first for something – and perhaps this patient’s terrible experience can serve as a more tangible warning to others, whether they’re desperate for a cure or just want to “detox” their bits. (Repeat after me, detoxing is not a thing.)

Even if you don’t burn yourself, there’s really no medical benefit to be gained from squatting atop a bowl of herbal tea.

“Apart from the risk of burning and scalding, there are many other reasons not to v-steam,” gynaecology professor Deborah Bateson from the University of Sydney, Australia wrote for The Conversation last year.

“Not only will steam have a drying effect on the vagina, it’s likely to disrupt the vaginal microbiome and reduce the body’s natural barrier against infections.”

Sadly, the appeal of alternative and traditional treatments – seemingly natural, easy, pain-free – is often intensified when a person is faced with something as invasive as reconstructive pelvic surgery.

Robert suggests that health professionals need to be aware of alternative therapies, so they can do their best to prevent potential harm.

“It is important to be aware of the availability of vaginal steaming and when women may consider it,” Robert writes in the case study.

“Our patient was recommended this therapy by a traditional Chinese doctor whom she trusted.”

The case study was published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

 

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