What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is not a disease, but refers to the inflammation of the soft folds of skin on the outside of the female genitalia, the vulva. The irritation can be caused by infection, allergic reaction, or injury. The skin of the vulva is especially susceptible to irritation due to its moistness and warmth.

Who is affected by vulvitis?

Any woman of any age can be affected by vulvitis. Girls who have not yet reached puberty or post-menopausal women may be at higher risk of vulvitis. Their lower estrogen levels may make them more susceptible to the condition due to thinner, dryer vulvar tissues.

What causes vulvitis?

Vulvitis can be caused by many factors or irritants, including:

  • The use of colored or perfumed toilet paper
  • An allergic reaction to bubble bath or soap used to clean the genital area
  • Use of vaginal sprays or douches
  • Irritation by chlorinated swimming pool or hot tub water
  • Allergic reaction to spermicide
  • Allergic reaction to sanitary napkins
  • Wearing synthetic underwear or nylon pantyhose without a breathable cotton crotch
  • Wearing a wet bathing suit for extended periods of time
  • Bike or horseback riding
  • Fungal or bacterial infections including scabies or pubic lice
  • Herpes
  • Skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis

What are the symptoms of vulvitis?

The symptoms of vulvitis can include:

  • Extreme and constant itching
  • A burning sensation in the vulvar area
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Small cracks on the skin of the vulva
  • Redness and swelling on the vulva and labia (lips of the vagina)
  • Blisters on the vulva
  • Scaly, thick whitish patches on the vulva

The symptoms of vulvitis can also suggest other disorders or diseases of the genitals. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.