What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva, the soft folds of skin outside the vagina. It’s a symptom that can result from an array of diseases. This can include infections, injuries, allergies, or irritants. Because it can be challenging to find the exact cause, diagnosing and treating this condition can be difficult. 

What causes vulvitis?

Vulvitis may be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Toilet paper with perfume or dye
  • Soaps or bubble baths with perfume
  • Shampoos and hair conditioners
  • Laundry detergents
  • Vaginal sprays, deodorants, and powders
  • Spermicides
  • Douching
  • Hot tub and swimming pool water
  • Underwear made of synthetic material without a cotton crotch
  • Rubbing against a bike seat
  • Wearing a wet bathing suit for a long period
  • Riding a horse
  • Infections such as pubic lice or mites (scabies)

Who is at risk for vulvitis?

Any woman with certain allergies, sensitivities, infections, or diseases can get vulvitis. Women may get it before puberty and after menopause. This may be due to a drop in estrogen.

What are the symptoms of vulvitis?

Each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Redness and swelling on the labia and other parts of the vulva
  • Intense itching
  • Clear, fluid-filled blisters
  • Sore, scaly, thick, or white patches on the vulva

The symptoms of vulvitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is vulvitis diagnosed?

Along with a complete medical history and physical and pelvic exam, other tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Pap test. This test involves microscopic exam of cells collected from the cervix. It’s used to find changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer. It also shows other conditions, such as infection or inflammation.

How is vulvitis treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Self-help measures (for example, avoiding irritants)
  • Sitz baths with soothing compounds (to help control the itching)
  • Cortisone creams
  • Estrogen cream

Key points about vulvitis

  • Vulvitis is inflammation of the vulva. It's not a condition, but a symptom with many possible causes.
  • Any woman with certain allergies, sensitivities, infections, or diseases can develop it.
  • Symptoms may include redness and swelling on the labia and other parts of the vulva, and intense itching.
  • Treatment may include self-help measures, Sitz baths, and cortisone creams.
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