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Quick Facts

Vulvitis

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is inflammation (swelling, redness) in your vulva. When both your vulva and vagina are inflamed, that's called vulvovaginitis.

Your vulva is the area between your legs on the outside of your body. Your vagina connects your uterus (where a baby grows when you are pregnant) to the outside of your body. Some people call it the birth canal. Many people mistakenly refer to the vulva as the vagina.

What causes vulvitis?

Vulvitis can be caused by anything that irritates your vulva, for example:

  • Anything that touches your vulva, including soaps, bubble bath, and fabric

  • An itchy skin problem called dermatitis, which can also affect the skin on your vulva

  • Yeast infections and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)

  • Lice in your pubic hair

  • Urine or stool (poop) that stays on your vulva—this is more likely if you're on bed rest or incontinent (when your urine leaks)

In children, infections of the vagina may also affect the vulva. These infections may be due to germs from stool or other germs.

What are the symptoms of vulvitis?

The most common symptoms of vulvitis are itching and soreness of your vulva. Your vulva will also likely be red instead of a healthy flesh color.

Rarely, the folds of skin in your vulva (labia) become stuck together.

Vulvitis that lasts for a long time (chronic) may cause sore, scaly, thick, or white patches on your vulva.

How can doctors tell if I have vulvitis?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine your vulva. Your doctor will do a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, your doctor first looks at your vulva and then looks inside your vagina. In order to see inside, your doctor will hold your vagina open with a small instrument called a speculum.

During the exam, your doctor may use a cotton swab to take a sample of fluid from your vagina and your cervix (the lower part of your uterus that is at the top of your vagina) to test it.

How do doctors treat vulvitis?

Treatments include:

  • Avoiding soaps, fabrics, and anything else that irritates your vulva

  • Taking a cool bath by sitting in just enough water to cover your vulva—you can also add a little baking soda or Epsom salts to help you feel less sore and itchy

  • Applying a medicated cream (such as hydrocortisone or estrogen cream) to your vulva

If your vulvitis doesn't get better with treatment, doctors usually do a biopsy (take a sample of skin from your vulva). The doctors will look for a different reason for why your vulva is red and irritated, such as a skin disorder or cancer.