Vulvovaginitis refers to different conditions that cause inflammation or infection in the vulva and vagina. The condition is common and easily treatable.
Potential causes of vulvovaginitis include:
Typically, the symptoms of vulvovaginitis affect both the vulva and vagina. How someone experiences the condition depends on the cause.
The types and causes of the condition include the following:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis or BV is the most common type of vulvovaginitis. Bacterial imbalances in the vagina cause the condition.
Any woman can get BV, and sexual activity does not usually play a role in its development, but it can.
BV prevalence in the United States is estimated to be
Up to 84 percent of females with BV do not report any symptoms.
Yeast infections, including Candida infections, are common causes of vulvovaginitis. These infections are also called vulvovaginal candidiasis.
Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Yeast infections affect up to
Trichomonas or trichomoniasis is an infection caused by a parasite and is usually spread through sexual contact, but not always.
The prevalence of trichomonas in the U.S. is believed to be around
Further causes of vulvovaginitis include:
- ingredients in soaps, lotions, and personal hygiene products, including douches
- heat rashes from tight-fitting or wet clothing
- chronic skin conditions
- reduced estrogen levels around the start of menopause or after childbirth
- foreign bodies, including lost tampons
- poor hygiene spread from bacteria in feces
Vulvovaginitis caused by poor hygiene tends to be more common in
General symptoms of vulvovaginitis include:
- redness or soreness
Some women may also experience:
- pain or discomfort with urination
- pain during sexual activity
- light bleeding outside monthly periods
- abnormal discharge
- odor, sometimes fishy smelling
What do odor and discharge say about the cause?
Discharge and odor distinguish the three causes of vulvovaginitis.
- Discharge with yeast infections is generally white and cottage cheese-like, but it does not have an odor. Yeast infections also cause itching.
- BV discharge is more substantial and may appear as a grey or green color. Its fishy smelling odor can distinguish BV.
- Trichomoniasis discharge may also have a fishy odor. The color of the discharge is a yellow-green color, and it appears foam-like.
Vulvovaginitis can be serious if not treated, although it is not generally a severe condition.
Seeing a doctor is the best way to determine what is happening and to get the right treatments because of the many causes, including sexual contact.
A doctor will make a diagnosis of vulvovaginitis based on symptoms and analysis of any vaginal discharge.
Carrying out a pelvic exam can also help with diagnosis. Pelvic exams involve physical and visual examination of the reproductive organs, including the vulva and vagina.
A doctor may test vaginal discharge with a
They may test vaginal pH as well, as raised pH levels can indicate BV or trichomoniasis. A doctor will apply a pH testing stick to the vaginal walls to check pH levels.
Once a doctor has decided the bacteria, yeast, or parasite source of the vulvovaginitis, they will diagnose the type of vulvovaginitis, and treatment can begin.
Treatments depend on the cause and include the following:
Treating BV involves an individual taking medications and applying gels and creams to the vulva and vagina.
Medications, such as metronidazole (available as a tablet or gel) or clindamycin (a cream) are only available with a doctor's prescription.
Yeast infection treatments
Treating yeast infections can be done with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams and suppositories, such as miconazole, which is available under the brand name Monistat.
Doctors may treat yeast infections with prescription oral antifungal medications, including fluconazole (Diflucan). If they have diagnosed a yeast infection, they will probably prescribe fluconazole or another prescription antifungal.
It is necessary to treat all sexual partners. They should also avoid sexual contact for at least a week, and until all symptoms are gone to prevent reinfection.
It is also essential to get rechecked if symptoms return.
Mild cases of BV and yeast infections can go away without treatment or with home remedies. It may still be a good idea to see a doctor who can prescribe appropriate treatments, however.
Research has been done on natural remedies for BV and yeast infections, including yogurt, garlic, and boric acid.
Because yogurt contains good bacteria, eating it daily is
Garlic has been found to be similar to
What do the studies say about home remedies?
Research from the Journal of Women's Health found that boric acid is a safe alternative for
Treatment for vulvovaginitis depends on the cause, and some cases may go away without treatment.
Good hygiene is the best way to prevent non-infectious vulvovaginitis. Wearing comfortable clothing that absorbs moisture can also reduce infection. Using a condom can prevent most sexually transmitted forms of vulvovaginitis.
Adoption of good lifestyle habits, including a healthy diet, and management of all health conditions can also help avoid vulvovaginitis.