What is Vulvovaginitis?

What is vulvovaginitis?

Vulvovaginitis is inflammation or infection of the vulva and vagina. It is a common condition that affects women and girls of all ages. It has various reasons. Other names for this condition are vulvitis and vaginitis.

Bacterial vulvovaginitis affects almost 30 percent of women in the United States during their lifetime and is the most common cause of symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2017 CDC fact sheet vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection) is the second most common vaginal infection.

What Causes Vulvovaginitis?

Many triggers can cause an infection in the vagina and vulval areas. The most common cause is bacteria. Other common causes are:

  • Maya
  • viruses
  • parasites
  • environmental factors
  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Exposure to chemical irritants and allergens


Some bacteria can multiply and cause vulvovaginitis. These bacteria include Streptococcus, Gardnerella and Staphylococcus. A bacterial infection can cause a grayish-white discharge with a fishy odour.


One of the most common causes of vulvovaginitis is Candida albicans. This yeast infection can cause genital itching and a thick, white vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese-like texture.

Some women experience yeast infections after taking antibiotics. This is because antibiotics can naturally kill antifungal bacteria that live in the vagina.


The viruses that can cause vulvovaginitis are typically sexually transmitted. These include herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV).


Pinworms, scabies and lice can cause inflammation of the vulva and vagina.

Environmental Factors

Lack of hygiene and allergens can also cause this condition. Tight clothing can rub against the skin, causing irritation and trapping moisture in the area.

Irritated skin is more susceptible to vulvovaginitis than healthy skin. Irritation can delay healing.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STI trichomonas vaginitis can cause vulvovaginitis. This infection causes genital discomfort, itching, and heavy discharge. The discharge may be yellow, green or gray. It usually has a strong odor. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can also cause vaginitis.


Some chemicals can cause vulvovaginitis. These are commonly found in soaps, feminine sprays, perfume, and vaginal contraceptives. Chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction:

  • parabens
  • sodium sulfate
  • triclosan
  • dioxane

If any of these ingredients are in your soap or laundry detergent, you may want to switch to a hypoallergenic or fragrance-free brand. This can help prevent your infection from recurring.

How Does Vulvovaginitis Occur in Children?

Vulvovaginitis is the most common gynecological disease in prepubescent girls. Doctors believe this is due to low estrogen levels. As puberty begins, the vagina becomes more acidic and infections usually stop.

Vulvovaginitis in children can be treated with daily baths, steroids, and low-dose topical antibiotics. It is important to advise your child on proper bathroom hygiene. Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear can prevent the infection from reoccurring.

What Are the Symptoms of Vulvovaginitis?

The symptoms of vulvovaginitis vary and depend on its cause. In general, the symptoms are:

  • Irritation of the genital area
  • Itching
  • Inflammation of the labia and perineal areas
  • Increased, strong-smelling vaginal discharge
  • discomfort while urinating

How Is Vulvovaginitis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose vulvovaginitis by discussing your symptoms and possibly collecting a sample of vaginal discharge for testing.

In most cases, your doctor will need to perform a pelvic exam. A wet preparation may be necessary to accurately identify the cause of your inflammation. This includes collecting some vaginal discharge for microscopic evaluation.

Your doctor can then identify the organism causing the condition, leading to faster and more successful treatment.

In rare cases, a biopsy of the vulva may be required to identify the organism. This means your doctor will take a small sample of tissue for further examination. A biopsy is typically only needed when conventional treatment methods have failed.

How Is Vulvovaginitis Treated?

The correct treatment for vulvovaginitis depends on the type of infection and the organism causing the problem.

It is possible to treat some types of vulvovaginitis on your own. But consult your doctor before starting any home treatment.

Natural Medicines

If you have had a yeast infection in the past, you can treat vulvovaginitis using over-the-counter products available at any pharmacy, including:

  • vaginal creams
  • suppositories
  • topical ointments
  • oral pills

The pharmacist can advise you on the best product for your symptoms and how to apply the product.

Crushed garlic and coconut oil, both known for their antibacterial properties, can also help treat the condition.

You can relieve some of the symptoms of your vulvovaginitis by sitting in the tub and taking a warm, shallow bath that covers only your hips. Adding tea tree oil or a small amount of vinegar or sea salt to the bath can help kill some bacteria if that is the cause of your symptoms.

Be careful not to sit in the bath for too long. After bathing, use a towel to dry the affected area completely.

If the inflammation or discharge does not improve after a week of home treatment, consult your doctor.

Prescription Drugs

Once your doctor has identified the type of organism causing your vulvovaginitis, they will likely prescribe medications.

Medications for this condition may include:

  • oral antibiotics
  • Antibiotic creams (applied directly to the skin)
  • Antibacterial creams (applied directly to the skin)
  • Antifungal creams (applied directly to the skin)
  • Oral antifungal drugs

Oral antihistamines, if an allergic reaction is a possible cause:

  • estrogen creams

Your doctor may also recommend a personal hygiene routine to help heal the infection and prevent it from recurring. This may be a case of proper cleaning after you use the bathroom and toilet.

Other suggestions include wearing loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear to allow air circulation and reduce humidity in the area. Removing underwear at bedtime can also help prevent vulvovaginitis.

Proper cleaning is important and can help prevent irritation. This is especially true if the infection is bacterial. Avoid using bubble baths, perfumed soaps, touch and washing powders.

A cold compress can also relieve pain in swollen or tender areas.

Sexual Health

It is important to warn your sexual partner if your vulvovaginitis is the result of an STI. All sexual partners should seek treatment for the condition, even if they are not currently showing symptoms.

What Is the Outlook for Vulvovaginitis?

Most cases of vulvovaginitis heal quickly when properly treated. If you don’t see an improvement within a week, return to your doctor. You may find that alternative treatments are more effective.

Yeast infections and bacterial infections are not sexually transmitted. If your vulvovaginitis is caused by yeast or bacteria, it is not necessary to abstain from intercourse during treatment.

But if you have an STI or virus, you and your partner should wait until you and your partner have completed treatment and are symptom-free before continuing the relationship, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If yeast is causing your vulvovaginitis, you may find the infection return. Over-the-counter products can usually treat these infections.

Source: Healthline, Vulvovaginitis, 2018.


  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) statistics. (2015).
  • Cemek F, et al. (2016). Personal hygiene and vulvovaginitis in prepubertal children [Abstract]. DOI:
  • Facts about vaginitis and vaginal infections. (n.d.).
  • Fungal diseases: Vaginal candidiasis. (2017).
  • Tobah YB. (2017). Sex during vaginal infection: Is it harmful?

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