Vulvitis

What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is simply an inflammation of the vulva, the soft folds of skin outside the vagina. This is not a condition but rather a symptom that results from a host of diseases, infections, injuries, allergies, and other irritants. Diagnosing and treating this condition can be frustrating because it is often difficult to determine the specific cause of the irritation.

What causes vulvitis?

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

  • scented or colored toilet paper
  • perfumed soaps or bubble baths
  • shampoos and hair conditioners
  • laundry detergents (especially enzyme-activated "cold water" formulas)
  • vaginal sprays, deodorants, douches, and powders
  • spermicides
  • douches that are too strong or used too frequently
  • hot tub and swimming pool water
  • synthetic undergarments without a cotton crotch
  • rubbing against a bicycle seat
  • wearing a wet bathing suit for a long period of time
  • horseback riding

Who is at risk for vulvitis?

Any female with certain allergies, sensitivities, infections, or diseases can develop vulvitis. Girls who have not yet reached puberty and postmenopausal women sometimes develop vulvitis, possibly because of inadequate levels of estrogen.

What are the symptoms of vulvitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for vulvitis. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of vulvitis may include:

  • redness and swelling on the labia and other parts of the vulva
  • excruciating itching
  • clear, fluid-filled blisters (present when the vulva is particularly irritated)
  • sore, scaly, thickened, or whitish patches (more prevalent in chronic vulvitis) on the vulva

The symptoms of vulvitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is vulvitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical and pelvic examination, diagnostic procedures for vulvitis may include the following:

  • blood tests
  • urinalysis
  • tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Pap test

Treatment for vulvitis:

Specific treatment for vulvitis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • severity of the symptoms
  • cause of the condition
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • self-help measures (i.e., avoiding external irritants known to provoke vulvitis)
  • sitz baths with soothing compounds (to help control the itching)
  • hydrocortisone creams

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