What You Need To Know About Vulvitis

The Causes of This Vulvar Symptom

Gynecology Consultation. Credit: BSIP / Contributor / Getty Images

Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva (the visible external genitalia). It is not a condition or disease; rather, it is a symptom that can result from a number of different causes, including allergies, infections, injuries, and other external irritants.

Other vaginal infections, such as vaginitis or genital herpes, often accompany vulvitis. If you are undergoing excessive levels of stress, if your nutrition is poor, or if you have poor hygiene, you may be more susceptible to vulvitis.

What Are Some of the Things That Can Lead To Vulvitis?

Several factors may contribute to the development of vulvitis:

  • oral sex
  • scented or colored toilet tissues
  • a bacterial or fungal infection
  • hot tubs and swimming pools
  • horseback riding
  • leaving a wet swimming suit on for a long period of time
  • riding a bicycle
  • allergic reactions to products such as:
    • soaps
    • shampoos
    • bubble baths
    • powders
    • deodorants
    • sanitary napkins
    • non-cotton underwear
    • pantyhose
    • vaginal douches
    • topical medications

Who Is Most at Risk for Vulvitis?

Diabetic women face an increased risk of developing vulvitis because the high sugar content of their cells increases susceptibility to infections.

Also, as estrogen levels drop during perimenopause, vulvar tissues become thinner, drier, and less elastic, increasing a woman's chance of developing vulvitis or other infections, such as vaginitis.

Young girls who have not yet reached puberty are also at possible risk due to the fact that adequate hormone levels have not yet been reached.

Any woman who is allergy-prone, has sensitive skin, or who has other infections or diseases can develop vulvitis.

What Are the Signs of Vulvitis?

While each woman may experience vulvitis symptoms differently, some of the most common symptoms are:

  • itching
  • redness
  • swelling
  • fluid-filled, clear blisters that break open and form a crust (sometimes mistaken for herpes)
  • soreness
  • scaly appearance
  • thickened or whitish patches

It's important for women with these symptoms to remember not to scratch, as this can lead to further irritation and/or infection. Although it may seem like a good idea to wash repeatedly over the day, the fact is that over-washing the affected area can lead to further irritation. It's best to wash just once a day with warm water only when symptoms of vulvitis are present.

How Is Vulvitis Diagnosed?

Several diagnostic tools, such as blood tests, urinalysis, testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and Pap smears help your doctor diagnose vulvitis.

What Is the Treatment for Vulvitis?

As vulvitis is a sign of another health condition, rather than a condition itself, treatment varies according to the cause. There are treatments, however, that can be used to ease any discomfort you're experiencing. Low-dose hydrocortisone creams may be prescribed for short periods. Anti-fungal creams are sometimes helpful. Post-menopausal women may find topical estrogen relieves their symptoms.

Self-help treatments include:

  • baths containing soothing compounds
  • stopping the use of any products that may be a contributing factor
  • keeping the vulva clean, dry, and cool
  • remembering to always wipe from front to back
  • hot boric acid compresses
  • cold compresses filled with plain yogurt or cottage cheese
  • calamine lotion
  • the use of sterile, non-irritating personal lubricants during sexual activity
  • stress reduction techniques
  • eating an adequate and nutritious diet
  • making sure you get enough sleep at night

How To Prevent Vulvitis

Things you can do to help prevent vulvitis include wearing white cotton underpants, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding vaginal douches. Vaginal sprays and powders should also be avoided, as should tight pants. Unless you're in a long-term monogamous relationship, always use condoms during sexual activities to reduce your risk of vulvitis, STDs, and other vaginal infections.


Vulvitis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed 08/26/09.

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