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What You Should Know About Vulvitis


Updated August 07, 2014

What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva (the visible external genitalia). Vulvitis is not a condition or disease; it is a symptom that results 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. Women who experience excessive stress, whose nutrition is poor, or who have poor hygiene may be more susceptible to vulvitis.

What causes vulvitis?

Several factors may contribute to the development of vulvitis:
  • Oral sex.
  • Scented or colored toilet tissue.
  • Bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Hot tubs and swimming pools.
  • Horseback riding.
  • Leaving a wet swimming suit on for a long period.
  • Bicycle riding.
  • Allergic reactions to products such as:
    • soaps,
    • shampoos,
    • bubble baths,
    • powders,
    • deodorants,
    • sanitary napkins,
    • non-cotton underwear,
    • pantyhose,
    • vaginal douches,
    • topical medications.

Who is at risk for vulvitis?

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

The treatment for vulvitis varies according to cause. Your clinician will consider several factors before determining which treatment is the right one. Some factors your clinician will consider include:
  • Your age, general health, and medical history.

  • The cause of your symptoms.

  • The specific symptoms you are experiencing.

  • The severity of your symptoms.

  • How well you tolerate certain medications, procedures, or therapies.

Once these factors are considered, several methods of treatment are available including both self-help measures, and prescribed medications. Low-dose hydrocortisone creams may be prescribed for short periods. Anti-fungal creams are sometimes helpful for treatment of vulvitis. Post menopausal women may find topical estrogen relieves their symptoms. Self-help treatments include:

  • Baths containing soothing compounds such as Aveeno baths or comfrey tea baths.

  • Stopping the use of any products that may be a contributing factor.

  • The vulva should be kept clean, dry, and cool. Always remember to wipe from front to back.

  • Hot boric acid compresses.

  • Cold compresses filled with plain yogurt or cottage cheese help ease itching and irritation.

  • Calamine lotion.

  • Using sterile, non-irritating personal lubricants such as K-Y Jelly, or Astroglide during sexual activity.

  • Learning to reduce stress.

  • 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 panties, 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.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001445.htm. Accessed 08/26/09.

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