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What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is the medical term used for inflammation of the vulva. The vulva are the folds of skin around the opening of the vagina. The urethra, which empties urine from the bladder, also opens into the vulva.

How does it occur?

Vulvitis can happen to a woman at any age. Possible causes are:

  • skin problems such as eczema, seborrhea, psoriasis, or chronic dermatitis
  • allergies or irritation from chemicals such as soaps, bubble bath, or other perfumed substances
  • infections by scabies mites, lice, yeast, bacteria, or viruses such as herpes
  • vulvar dystrophy, which is a change in the skin of the vulva (for example, the skin becomes thicker or thinner)

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are:

  • redness
  • burning
  • itching
  • stinging
  • soreness
  • irritation
  • thickening or small cracks in the skin around the vagina
  • changes in vaginal discharge

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, hygiene products that you use, and your symptoms. Your provider will examine you. Sometimes, your provider may remove (biopsy) a small piece of tissue from the vulva to find out what kinds of cells are causing the problem.

How is it treated?

The treatment for vulvitis depends on the cause. If an infection is the cause, it may be treated with medicine put on the vulva or into the vagina. It can also be treated with pills taken by mouth or shots. Your healthcare provider may ask you to stop sexual activity until the vulvitis heals. To prevent reinfection or spread of infection, your partner may need to be treated also.

If vulvitis is being caused by a substance that is irritating the vulva, it will usually go away when you stop using the irritating substance. Some irritations are treated with steroid or hormone creams.

How long will the effects last?

Depending on the cause of the vulvitis, it may heal in a few days with treatment or it may take a few weeks to go away. In some cases vulvitis can be a chronic condition and not go away, even with treatment.

How can I take care of myself?

To help relieve the symptoms you can:

  • Bathe with nonirritating, unscented soap. Use water that is warm but not hot. Rinse your genital area well but gently. Pat dry without rubbing.
  • Wear loose-fitting, all-cotton underwear or cotton-crotch underwear.
  • Keep your genital area dry.

Call your healthcare provider if you have removed all possible irritants and you still have symptoms of vulvitis.

How can I help prevent vulvitis?

  • Bathe daily with mild soap and warm water. Don’t use bath oils or bubble bath.
  • Keep the genital area dry. After baths pat it dry instead of rubbing it.
  • Wear all-cotton underwear or underwear with cotton crotches. Change underwear and pantyhose every day.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants, pantyhose, or tights for many hours, especially in hot, humid weather.
  • Use unscented white toilet paper.
  • Avoid spray and powder feminine hygiene products. Don’t douche unless told to do so by your healthcare provider.
  • Use a soft cushioned bicycle seat if you are riding a bicycle for long periods of time.
  • If you tend to get yeast infections when you take antibiotics, use an antiyeast cream when you are taking antibiotic medicine.
  • Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else. Use a condom when you have sex to lower your risk for infection. Avoid spermicidal foams, gels, and creams if you have had a problem with them before.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-18
Last reviewed: 2010-01-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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