Overview of vulvitis

Vulvitis is vulvar irritation, or an inflammation of the vulva, which is the soft skin that surrounds the entrance to the vagina. It rarely causes long-term complications but can cause discomfort. 

Symptoms vary from woman to woman and may depend on the severity of the inflammation. Since vulvitis can be caused by many different things, from irritants to injuries, to infections or allergies, it can be challenging to find the precise cause and treatment. 

Symptoms 

The symptoms of vulvitis are few but noticeable, and they can cause a lot of discomfort. They include: 

  • Burning or vulvar itching  
  • Redness and swelling 
  • Unusual vaginal discharge 
  • Small cracks in the skin of the vulva 
  • Thick, scaly, whitish patches on the vulva 
  • Small, fluid-filled blisters 

It is important to remember that these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. See your doctor to rule out anything more serious, such as an infection or vulvar cancer. 

Causes 

Anything that can irritate the skin of the vulva can cause vulvitis. Common causes include: 

  • Allergic reactions to chemicals used in toilet paper, laundry detergent, vaginal sprays, soaps, bubble baths, spermicides, and sanitary pads 
  • Infections, including yeast infections, herpes, scabies, and pubic lice 
  • Skin disorders, including eczema and dermatitis 
  • Physical irritation, from sports activities, biking, horseback riding, or continued exposure to moisture (such as remaining in a wet bathing suit) 
  • Underwear with a crotch that is made from synthetic material rather than cotton 
  • Contact of urine or feces with the area for an extended period of time (frequent in people with incontinence) 

If you are experiencing vulvar irritation, our experienced gynecologists at Dignity Health are here for you. Find a Doctor and make an appointment today.  

Risk factors 

Any woman can develop vulvitis at any age. However, some risk factors can increase the likelihood: 

  • Having allergies or sensitivities 
  • Anyone with chronic skin conditions 
  • Having an infection (fungal or bacterial) 
  • Age (low estrogen during pre-puberty or post-menopause increases the risk) 

Prevention 

There are a number of things women can do to prevent vulvitis. These include: 

  • Avoiding the use of scented products or products containing chemicals (such as soap, laundry detergent, and toilet paper) 
  • Avoiding the use of tampons 
  • Washing the genital area with water and an unscented, gentle soap 
  • Ensuring the genital area is dry after bathing and swimming 
  • Wearing cotton underwear and loose, breathable clothing 
  • Changing out of a wet bathing suit or other damp clothing as soon as possible after swimming/being wet 
  • Using an antifungal cream if you get yeast infections when taking antibiotics 
  • Staying with one sexual partner and using a condom to help prevent the occurrence of an STI 
  • The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.