Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vagina and vulva, the outer genital area, causing itching, pain and abnormal discharge.

It is the most common gynecologic problem in young girls.

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

Causes & Risk Factors

Young girls are especially susceptible to vulvovaginitis because they don’t yet have pubic hair or fatty labia to protect against irritants to the delicate skin of the vulva, such as tight clothing or harsh soaps, or estrogen to help prevent infection in the vaginal tract.

Common causes of vulvovaginitis in young women include:

  • Irritation of the genital area – caused by harsh soaps, detergents, chemicals (chlorine, bubble bath), and tight clothing
  • Infections
  • Skin conditions – such as eczema
  • Bacterial imbalance – upsetting the natural balance of bacteria that lives in the vagina
  • Poor hygiene – including improper wiping (back to front)
  • Foreign objects in the vagina – such as pieces of toilet paper
  • Pinworms – common parasites in children

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms may include:

  • Vaginal itching or irritation
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Soreness
  • Burning
  • Change in color, odor or amount of vaginal discharge
  • Burning when urinating, because of irritated skin

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosis starts with a thorough medical history, a discussion of symptoms and hygiene habits, and a physical exam, including examination of external genital area. 

Diagnosis may also include:

  • A pelvic exam
  • A swabbing of vaginal discharge, for examination under a microscope

Treatment & Care

Treatment depends on the individual and the cause of inflammation.

Treatment strategies may include:

  • Antibiotics – to treat any bacterial infection
  • Warm baths (with no soap) – to ease symptoms
  • Topical antibiotic, hydrocortisone cream, or vitamin A&D ointment – to speed healing and soothe pain

Living & Managing

Lifestyle changes – particularly improved hygiene.

Steps to reduce the risk of vulvovaginitis include:

  • Good feminine hygiene – Keep the vulva and vaginal area clean and dry
  • Avoid perfumed soaps, bubble baths, gels, tampons, etc.
  • Don't wear tight or damp clothing
  • Wear cotton underwear to absorb moisture and allow air to circulate