Vulvitis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

This unpleasant symptom gas several possible causes

Gynecology Consultation. Credit: BSIP / Contributor / Getty Images

Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva (the visible external genitalia). It is not a condition or disease; rather, it is a symptom that can result from a number of different causes, including allergies, infections, injuries, and other external irritants.

Other vaginal infections, such as vaginitis or genital herpes, often accompany vulvitis.

Some potential causes of vulvitis include bacterial or fungal infections, scented or colored toilet tissues or sanitary products, or leaving wet clothing (such as a swimsuit) on for a long period of time.

There are also allergic reactions that may cause vulvitis. Products such as soaps, shampoos, powders, deodorants, sanitary napkins, nylon pantyhose, topical medications or vaginal douches are all potential causes of vulvar irritation.

Who Is Most at Risk for Vulvitis

Diabetic women face an increased risk of developing vulvitis because the high sugar content of their cells increases susceptibility to infections.

Also, as estrogen levels drop during perimenopause, vulvar tissues become thinner, drier, and less elastic, increasing a woman's chance of developing vulvitis or other infections, such as vaginitis.

Young girls who have not yet reached puberty are also at possible risk since adequate hormone levels have not yet been reached.

Any woman who is allergy-prone, has sensitive skin, or who has other infections or diseases can develop vulvitis.

Symptoms and Signs 

While each woman may experience vulvitis symptoms differently, some of the most common symptoms are itching, redness, swelling, soreness and thickened or whitish patches.

Fluid-filled, clear blisters that break open and form a crust may also be present, along with a scaly appearance.

It's important for women with these symptoms to try not to scratch, as this can lead to further irritation and/or infection. Although it may seem like a good idea to wash repeatedly over the day,  over-washing the affected area can lead to further irritation.

It's best to wash just once a day with warm water only when symptoms of vulvitis are present.


Several diagnostic tools, such as blood tests, urinalysis, testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and Pap tests help your doctor diagnose vulvitis.


Since vulvitis is a symptom, not a condition itself, treatment varies according to the cause. There are treatments, however, that can be used to ease any discomfort you're experiencing.

Low-dose hydrocortisone creams may be prescribed for short periods, and anti-fungal creams are sometimes helpful. Post-menopausal women may find topical estrogen relieves their symptoms.

Other self-help treatments include baths containing soothing compounds, hot boric acid compresses and calamine lotion.

During sex, use a sterile, non-irritating personal lubricant, and don’t use any products that may be contributing to the irritation, such as scented tampons or toilet tissue. Keep the vulva clean, dry and cool, and be sure to clean the vaginal and perianal areas completely during menstrual periods and after bowel movements.


Reducing stress, getting enough sleep and a nutritious diet are also good ways to take care of yourself and prevent future flare-ups of vulvitis.

Other ways to prevent vulvitis include wearing white cotton underpants, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding vaginal douches. Vaginal sprays and powders should also be avoided, as should tight pants. Unless you're in a long-term monogamous relationship, always use condoms during sexual activities to reduce your risk of vulvitis, STDs, and other vaginal infections.


Vulvitis. John Hopkins Medical Health Library