What Is Vulvovaginitis?
Vulvovaginitis is an inflammation or infection of the vulva and
vagina. It’s a common condition that affects women and girls of all ages, and it
has a variety of causes. Other names for this condition are vulvitis and
What Causes Vulvovaginitis?
Many triggers can cause vulvovaginitis, including:
- environmental factors
- sexually transmitted infections
- chemical irritants
Certain bacteria can proliferate and can cause vulvovaginitis.
These bacteria include Streptococcus, Gardnerella, and Staphylococcus.
A bacterial infection can cause a grayish-white discharge that smells fishy.
However, according to the Illinois
Department of Public Health, about half of women with this type of
infection have no symptoms.
One of the most common causes of vulvovaginitis is Candida
albicans. This yeast infection can cause genital itching and a thick, white
vaginal discharge that is similar to cottage cheese. A yeast infection often
follows the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill the antifungal bacteria
that normally live in the vagina. This can lead to yeast infection.
Viruses that can cause vulvovaginitis include herpes simplex and
human papillomavirus (HPV).
Pinworms, scabies, and lice can cause inflammation of the vulva
Poor hygiene and allergens can cause this condition. Tight
clothing can rub against the skin and create irritation. Irritated skin is more
susceptible to vulvovaginitis than normal skin. Irritation can also delay
Sexually Transmitted Infections
The sexually transmitted infection (STI) trichomonas vaginitis
can also cause vulvovaginitis. This causes genital discomfort, itching, and heavy
discharge. This discharge can be yellow, green, or gray. It often has a strong
odor. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can also cause vaginitis. These
infections in a child might indicate abuse. However, some of these can transfer
to a child without sexual contact.
- Some chemicals can cause vulvovaginitis. These
often appear in the form of:
- bubble bath
- feminine spray
- vaginal contraceptives
Sometimes vulvovaginitis has no known cause. According to KidsHealth,
this is the most common gynecological condition in prepubescent girls. Doctors
believe this is due to low estrogen. When puberty begins, the vagina becomes more
acidic and the infections usually stop.
What Are the Symptoms of Vulvovaginitis?
The symptoms of vulvovaginitis vary and depend on their cause.
In general, symptoms can include:
- irritation of the genital area
- genital itching
- inflammation, specifically around the labia and
- foul odor that’s typically quite strong
- increased vaginal discharge
- discomfort when urinating, including a burning
How Is Vulvovaginitis Diagnosed?
A doctor will diagnose vulvovaginitis by discussing your symptoms
and possibly collecting a sample of vaginal discharge to test.
In most cases, the doctor will need to perform a pelvic
examination. A wet prep may be necessary to correctly identify the cause of
your inflammation. This involves collecting some vaginal discharge for
microscopic evaluation. This will identify the organism and make treatment
quicker and more successful.
In rare cases, it may be necessary to biopsy the vulva to
identify the organism. This means the doctor will take a small sample of tissue
for further examination. A biopsy is usually only necessary if there’s no sign
How Is Vulvovaginitis Treated?
The correct treatment for vulvovaginitis depends on the type of
infection and the organism causing the problems. It’s possible to treat some
types of vulvovaginitis on your own. However, you should speak with a healthcare
provider before initiating any treatment.
If you have had a yeast infection in the past, you may be able to
treat vulvovaginitis using over-the-counter products. A pharmacist will be able
to advise you on the best product for your symptoms and how to apply the
product. Consult your doctor if the inflammation isn’t better after a week.
After your doctor identifies the type of organism causing your
vulvovaginitis, they will prescribe medication to cure the condition.
This could include:
- oral antibiotics
- antibiotic creams applied directly to the skin
- antifungal creams applied directly to the skin
- antibacterial creams applied directly to the
- oral antihistamines, if an allergic reaction is
- estrogen creams
- oral antifungal pills
Your doctor may also recommend a personal hygiene routine to help
heal the infection and prevent it from recurring. This could include taking sitz
baths and wiping properly after using the toilet.
Other suggestions include wearing loose clothing and cotton
underwear to allow the circulation of air and reduce moisture. Removing
underwear at bedtime may also help.
Proper cleansing is important and may help prevent irritation.
This is especially true if the infection is bacterial. Avoid using bubble bath,
perfumed soaps, and washing powders as much as possible. Opt for sitz baths
instead. You may also find sensitive-skin versions of these products less
A cold compress is useful to relieve pain on swollen or tender
Sexually Transmitted Infections
It’s important to alert your sexual partners if your
vulvovaginitis is the result of an STI. All sexual partners should receive
treatment for the condition, even if they’re not currently showing symptoms.
It’s important not to have sexual contact with anyone who
currently has the condition. This is true whether the affected person is still receiving
treatment or has yet to be treated.
What Is the Outlook for Vulvovaginitis?
Most cases of vulvovaginitis will heal quickly when properly
treated. Return to your doctor if you don’t see an improvement within one week.
You may find that alternative treatments are more effective.
If yeast is causing your vulvovaginitis, you may find the
infection sometimes returns. Over-the-counter products can usually treat this.