Vulvitis refers to inflammation of the vulva, skin surrounding the opening of the vagina and the vulva is particularly vulnerable to this condition due to the moist and warm environment within this location. Women of any age have the possibility of being affected by vulvitis and is often an indicator that an underlying condition is affecting the vulva. Vulvitis causes and symptoms will be discussed further in this article.
There are various causes and risk factors that may irritate the vulva and cause vulvitis and they include:
- Infections: Vaginal and groin infections such as fungal infections, bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections such as genital herpes may cause vulvar irritation.
- Irritants: Various products and liquids that can irritate the vulva include soaps, powders, perfumes, creams, chlorinated water in pools and tubs as well as spermicides. Even clothing or materials worn such as sanitary napkins, pantyhose, tight clothing and underwear may irritate the vulva.
- Vaginal douches: Douches can cause dryness and irritation by altering the fluids and normal bacteria within the genitalia. This may potentially cause vulvar infection and vulvitis.
- Scabies and pubic lice infestation
- Medication: Medications containing hormones can cause vaginal dryness and increase risk of vulvitis. Antibiotics can also increase the risk of fungal infection of the vulva or vagina due to the elimination of good bacteria within the genitalia and causing vulvitis.
- Hygiene: Exposure to excess moisture around the vulva may lead to infections such as vaginal candidiasis leading to vulvitis.
- Allergies and skin problems such as eczema and dermatitis may increase skin sensitivity and predispose one to a higher risk of vulvitis.
- Diabetes is also another possible cause for vulvitis as it increases one’s risk for groin infection because of how it affects one’s immune system.
- Perimenopausal women or those going through menopause become susceptible to vulvitis as decreased estrogen production causes decreased lubrication and thinning of the vulva. Prepubertal girls are also at risk because as they have yet to produce sufficient levels of estrogen.
Given the myriad of causes for vulvitis, it can manifest with a variety of symptoms. The most common ones include:
- Burning sensation
- Discomfort when urinating
Other symptoms that may occur include:
- Rashes and bumps
- Blisters and crusting
- Scaly appearance on the skin
- Vaginal bleeding
- Thickening of skin and skin discolouration
- Vaginal discharge
When evaluating the symptoms, occasionally they might help narrow down the cause for vulvitis. The appearance of discharge in particular may be suggestive of certain types of infections or conditions, for example:
- Bacterial vaginosis causes gray and thin, fishy smelling discharge. It less commonly causes itching and irritation and is unlikely to cause dyspareunia
- Yeast infection causes thick whitish discharge that looks like cottage cheese and itching with or without burning sensation or dyspareunia
- Trichomonal vaginitis causes yellow-green discharge that is foul-smelling and dyspareunia
- Inflammatory vaginitis causes purulent looking discharge and dryness of the vagina
Given that vulvitis may be caused by a variety of conditions as mentioned above, it makes diagnosis with merely symptoms difficult sometimes. In addition, symptoms may overlap when one suffer from multiple conditions causing vulvitis simultaneously. Therefore, seeking medical attention would be wise in order for you to find out the exact cause for the vulvitis for proper treatment to be administered.
When consulting a healthcare professional, assessment usually involves evaluation of the patient’s medical history, sexual history and lifestyle habits such as the use of soaps and douching to detect risk factors that may predispose one to vulvitis. Physical examination of the pelvis and groin may be done to detect signs of any particular condition that may be causing vulvitis. During the consultation, a sample of the vaginal discharge may also be obtained for microscopic evaluation to detect the organism that is causing the vulvitis. Laboratory testing of the discharge sample along with urine analysis may also be done to detect sexually transmitted infections. When necessary, a pap smear may be done to evaluate the cervical cells as they may reveal changes in cells that is caused by infection, inflammation or cancer.
Eventually, treatment would be dependent upon the underlying cause for vulvitis. Where necessary, medications such as antifungal creams for yeast infection may be prescribed to resolve the problem and topical creams may even be administered to help reduce some of the irritative symptoms. Identifying allergens and irritants and avoiding them would help to prevent allergies and to reduce irritation that is causing vulvitis. In general, to help prevent vulvitis, the genital region has to be kept clean and dry. Preventative measures include:
- Avoiding tight clothing such as tight jeans and pantyhose that may be irritative and abrasive to the vulva.
- Wearing clothing and underwear made from cotton to ensure proper ventilation.
- Avoiding douching that may alter the fluids and normal bacteria within the vagina.
- Avoiding irritants and scented products such as perfume, sprays, soap and scented toilet paper that may irritate the vulva.
- Changing into dry clothing especially after excessively sweating or swimming.
- Practicing safe sex by using condoms to prevent risk of sexually transmitted infections to reduce risk of vulvitis.
Vulvitis may resolve without much complication especially if it is caused by lifestyle factors and habits. Adjustments made using the preventative measures mentioned may be effective in helping to resolve the problem. In any case, it is better that you seek medical advice for proper diagnosis to receive the appropriate treatment and to manage risk factors especially those related to infections or medical conditions.