Vulvitis Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

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Vulvitis is irritation or inflammation of the vulva, the skin right outside the vagina. It can be caused by dryness, skin abrasion, an allergy, infection, or injury. Usually, vulvitis is not serious, though it may cause persistent discomfort or pain.

Sometimes, vulvitis is a symptom of an underlying condition that requires treatment, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a fungal infection. If you have persistent irritation for several days, you should see your healthcare provider. Treatment depends on the cause of your vulvitis.

Doctor consoling woman while showing tablet computer in medical examination room
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The symptoms of vulvitis vary depending on the cause and how long it has been affecting you.

Common symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Soreness
  • Pain with sexual activity
  • Increased sensitivity when wiping with toilet paper

Some infections or allergies that cause vulvitis produce other symptoms as well, including:

  • Thickened or whitish patches
  • Fluid-filled, clear blisters that break open and form a crust
  • Scaly appearance
  • Bumps or warts
  • Vaginal discharge

Causes and Risk Factors

Vulvitis can be caused by anything that irritates the vulva. The most common causes of vulvitis include:

  • Infections: Vaginal infections, such as vaginitis, genital herpes, and yeast infections, often cause vulvitis.
  • Irritants: Products made with irritating materials, or added dyes or perfumes can cause vulvitis without an infection. For example, soaps, powders, sanitary napkins, underwear, pantyhose, and massage oils can all irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  • Medication: Some medications, such as hormone supplements and anti-anxiety medicines can cause vaginal dryness, increasing susceptibility to vulvitis. Oral or intravenous antibiotics increase the risk of a vaginal or vulvar fungal infection, which can cause vulvitis.
  • Vaginal douches: Douches change the fluid in and around the vulva, and can cause dryness and irritation. They also alter the normal bacteria of the vaginal area, potentially causing a vulvar infection.
  • Hygiene habits: Not changing a pad or underwear, prolonged moisture around the vulva, and not wiping or drying properly can all lead to vulvitis.

Any person with a vulva can develop vulvitis, but those who are allergy-prone or have sensitive skin may be particularly at risk. People who have diabetes also have an increased risk of developing vulvitis because high blood sugar content increases susceptibility to infections.

If you are perimenopausal or have gone through menopause you are susceptible because decreased amounts of estrogen associated with these transitions make the vulva thinner, less lubricated, and more delicate.

Similarly, female children who have not yet reached puberty are also at risk because they don't make adult levels of estrogen yet.


You may already suspect the cause of your vulvitis; perhaps symptoms started after you switched laundry detergents, for example. But sometimes, the cause may not be obvious. Either way, getting a healthcare provider to weigh in is a good idea.

Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose vulvitis with a pelvic examination. Several diagnostic tools, such as urinalysis, testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and Pap smears, can help your healthcare provider diagnose the cause of vulvitis if you haven't used a product that directly irritated your skin.


The underlying cause of your vulvitis will dictate the treatment.

Your healthcare provider's recommendations may involve these self-care strategies to reduce irritation and inflammation:

  • Discontinue the use of soaps, lotions, bubble bath, and other products that cause or aggravate your vulvitis.
  • Try not to scratch because this can lead to further irritation, as well as cause bleeding or an infection. 
  • Wash the area only once daily with warm water. Over-washing can lead to further irritation.

These may be used alone or in conjunction with medication:

  • Low-dose hydrocortisone creams may be prescribed for an allergic reaction.
  • Anti-fungal creams or antibacterial creams may be needed for an infection.
  • Topical estrogen may relieve inflammation and symptoms for people who are post-menopause.

While they won't resolve the condition, other strategies may be used to ease the discomfort you're experiencing as your vulvitis is addressed:

  • Taking warm baths, or using a sitz bath
  • Applying hot boric acid compresses
  • Applying calamine lotion (external areas only)
  • Using a hypoallergenic lubricant, particularly before sexual activity


As a general rule, keep your vaginal and vulvar area clean, dry, and cool, especially during menstrual periods and after bowel movements. Be sure to gently cleanse the vaginal and perianal areas, and avoid rubbing with washcloths or towels.

Other ways to prevent vulvitis include:

  • Wearing white cotton underpants
  • Avoiding excessively tight pants, pantyhose, or any clothes that are abrasive to the vulvar area or that don't allow for adequate air circulation
  • Opting for unscented, white toilet paper and fragrance-free feminine products
  • Using fragrance- and dye-free laundry detergent; passing on using fabric softener when washing underwear
  • Avoiding vaginal sprays and powders
  • Changing out of wet clothing promptly, such as after a swim or vigorous exercise
  • Always using external or internal condoms during sexual activities to reduce your risk of vulvitis, STIs, and other vaginal infections (unless you're in a long-term, monogamous relationship)

A Word From Verywell

Vulvitis is fairly common and usually resolves without complications. Lifestyle adjustments are typically effective unless it is caused by an infection, a medical condition, or a medication. Be sure to listen to your body and don't ignore itching, tenderness, or discomfort of the vulvar area. Vulvitis typically does not go away on its own.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is vulvitis a sexually transmitted infection?

    No. But it can be a symptom of an STI, such as genital herpes or pubic lice.

  • What is senile vulvitis?

    Senile vulvitis is a term sometimes used to refer to atrophic vulvovaginitis—symptoms caused by thinning, dryness, and loss of elasticity of the genital skin that occurs with aging. These naturally occurring changes can lead to burning and itching (known clinically as pruritus vulvae).

  • What is lichenoid vulvitis?

    Lichenoid vulvitis refers to any of three chronic inflammatory conditions that affect the vulva: lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, and lichen simplex chronicus (LSC). All can cause severe pain and itching, as well as complications such as the breakdown of tissue and scarring. LSC is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma.

  • What is the link between vulvitis and diabetes?

    Diabetes increases the risk of infection in general, including several types that cause vulvitis and/or vulvovaginitis (meaning the vagina and vulva are affected). Certain medications that lower glucose can also increase infection risk. The most common such infections are bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and candidiasis (yeast infection).

  • Is it OK to engage in sexual activities with someone who has vulvitis?

    It's not a good idea. Although vulvitis is not an STI per se, it may be caused by one. What's more, any sort of touching, rubbing, or manual or oral stimulation could exacerbate inflammation. Best to wait until the condition has cleared up.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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