Vulvitis: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Vulvitis: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Kanna Ingleson 

Reviewed by Debra
Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
Vulvitis is the inflammation
of the soft skin on the outside of the female genitalia. This area is called
the vulva. The moist and warm conditions that are a necessary part of the vulva
make it especially susceptible to vulvitis.

Any female can be affected by
vulvitis, especially if they have allergies, sensitivities, infections, or
diseases that make them more vulnerable.
Prepubescent girls and
postmenopausal women have a higher risk because they tend to have lower
estrogen levels.
It is important to see a
doctor if symptoms, such as vaginal discharges or skin lesions on the vulva,

Fast facts on vulvitis:

  • Vulvitis is often a symptom of
    something else, such as an infection, allergic reaction, or injury.
  • Women with diabetes can
    develop vulvitis due to the higher than usual sugar in their cells.
  • The first step in any
    treatment plan is to stop using products that could be irritating.
  • The best way to protect
    against vulvitis is to avoid contact with irritants, such as perfumed soap and
    sanitary products, and non-breathable underwear.

Allergies or sensitivities to
certain products, items, or habits usually provoke vulvitis. Any of the
following may be the cause:
Certain hygiene products,

  • colored or perfumed toilet
  • vaginal sprays or douches
  • shampoos and hair conditioners
  • laundry detergents
  • topical creams and medications
Allergic reaction to:

  • bubble bath or soap used on
    the genitals
  • spermicides
  • sanitary napkins
Irritation caused by:

  • douching
  • a yeast infection
  • chlorinated water in swimming
    pools or hot tubs
  • synthetic underwear or nylon
  • wearing a wet bathing suit for
    a long time
  • bike or horseback riding
  • incontinence
  • poor personal hygiene
Other factors, such as:

  • diabetes
  • scabies or pubic lice
  • herpes
  • eczema or dermatitis
Postmenopausal women can be
particularly susceptible to vulvitis. As estrogen levels drop, the vulvar
tissues become thinner, drier, and less elastic. This makes women more
vulnerable to irritation and infection.

What are the symptoms of
Symptoms of vulvitis can
manifest in different ways. Some of the most common are:

  • itching, redness, burning, and
  • soreness, and thickened or
    white patches
  • vaginal discharge
The following symptoms can
affect the skin on the vulva:

  • clear fluid-filled blisters
  • a scaly appearance
  • severe and prolonged itching
  • a burning sensation
  • small cracks
Over-cleaning of the affected
area can make symptoms worse. It is best to wash once a day, and only with warm
The symptoms of vulvitis can
suggest other disorders or diseases, including allergies, infections, and

How is vulvitis diagnosed?

Vulvitis can develop for many
reasons, and finding the exact cause can be tricky. Clinical assessment usually
starts with:

  • a medical history
  • a pelvic examination
The aim is to look out for
redness, blisters, or anything else that may support a diagnosis of vulvitis.
Any vaginal discharge may be tested for infections. Other conditions such as
dermatitis or Lichen sclerosus are rare but need to be ruled out.
A diagnostic exam may include
checks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may include analysis of a
urine sample. These two checks are usually done to rule out other issues that
have similar symptoms.
Diagnostic tools may also
include blood tests and pap tests. Pap tests involve laboratory testing of
cells from the cervix. These can reveal changes in the cells that may be linked
to infection, inflammation, or cancer.

Treatment options

Vulvitis can have many
different causes, as outlined here, and this can sometimes make a diagnosis
However, provided that any
underlying cause is accurately diagnosed, vulvitis is easily treated. Itching
and other typical symptoms can usually be resolved within weeks of diagnosis
and treatment.
If the inflammation is thought
to be a result of reduced estrogen due to menopause, a doctor may prescribe a
topical estrogen cream.

Symptom-relief products

Hydrocortisone, anti-fungal,
and estrogen creams can be helpful for symptom-relief. Self-help treatments
include warm, soothing baths, compresses and calamine lotion.
Separate treatment of other
conditions, such as vaginal infection or herpes, is essential if these are
causing symptoms of vulvitis.
If these measures do not
reduce the irritation, or if the symptoms worsen, then further tests will be
needed. These may include a skin biopsy to rule out abnormal skin growth on the
vulva, known as vulvar dystrophy, and vulvar dysplasia, which can be a
precancerous condition.
Similarly, a skin biopsy may
be needed If skin lesions are present on the vulva.


Irritants are a common cause
of vulvitis, but the condition can also be linked with STIs. Prevention of STIs
is through abstinence or condom use.
It is worth noting here that
for some women condoms and associated lubricants can be irritating in
themselves and, therefore, do not work as preventative measures for vulvitis
caused by STIs.
For many women, the chances of
a flare-up of vulvitis can be reduced with some basic self-care. Reducing
stress, getting enough sleep and a nutritious, healthful diet can be helpful.
If vulvitis is reoccurring, a
woman should consider wearing cotton panties and paying extra attention to
perineal hygiene.
Treating yeast or other
infections promptly, is equally important, as is talking to a doctor about
other ways to prevent vulvitis.


Vulvitis is fairly common and
is usually not serious in most cases. Symptoms, such as itching and irritation,
can usually be relieved quickly.
On the other hand, vulvitis
can sometimes be indicative of other underlying conditions, some of which can
be serious if untreated. Hence, it is important to have a complete and
conclusive diagnosis by a doctor, as soon as symptoms start to appear.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.