Vulvitis

What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is an itchy inflammation of the vulva, the soft folds of skin outside the vagina. It's not so much a condition as it is a symptom of certain diseases, infections, injuries, allergies, or simply a reaction to an irritant or activity. The frustration is usually identifying the cause.

Any woman with allergies, skin sensitivities, conditions, or diseases can develop vulvitis. Girls who have not yet reached puberty and post-menopausal women may possibly develop the irritation because of low estrogen levels.

What are the symptoms of vulvitis?

The experience of vulvitis can differ from woman to woman. Possible symptoms include:

  • redness and swelling of the labia and skin surrounding the vagina
  • excruciating itching or burning
  • clear, fluid-filled blisters
  • sore, scaly, thickened, or whitish patches (more common in chronic vulvitis)

What causes vulvitis?

The irritation of vulvitis can have many causes:

  • allergies or sensitivities to perfumes, soaps, toilet paper, vaginal sprays, laundry detergent, or body washes
  • long-term inflammatory skin conditions, such as dermatitis, seborrhea, or eczema
  • fungal or bacterial infections, scabies, or pubic lice
  • spermicides
  • douches that are too strong or used too frequently
  • hot tub and swimming pool water
  • synthetic undergarments without a cotton crotch
  • rubbing against a bicycle seat
  • wearing a wet bathing suit for a long period of time
  • horseback riding

How is vulvitis diagnosed?

A physician will do a pelvic exam and may recommend these tests to detect an infection or underlying condition:

How is vulvitis treated?

Your daughter's specific treatment depends on the cause and severity of her vulvitis.

  • She may be advised to avoid external irritants.
  • She may use Sitz baths or hydrocortisone cream to help soothe itching.
  • When the cause of the vulvitis is identified and treated, the itching may subside within a couple weeks.

How we care for vulvitis

At Boston Children's Hospital. the Division of Gynecology team can help a young woman determine the cause of her vulvitis, help with treatment, and also provide testing to rule out other serious conditions that could be causing the irritation.