Vulvovaginitis is an inflammation of the vulva and vaginal tissues. Planned Parenthood defines the vulva as the whole female genital "package" — labia, clitoris, vagina, and the opening to the urethra. And the vagina is the passage that connects a woman's outer sex organs (the vulva) with the cervix and uterus.
The Cleveland Clinic says vulvovaginitis accounts for 10 million gynecological visits each year in the U.S.
Several factors can cause vulvovaginitis including bacteria, yeasts, viruses, other parasites or microorganisms, allergic reaction, irritation, injury, low estrogen levels (in postmenopausal women), poor hygiene and certain diseases.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that candida albicans, which causes yeast infections, is one of the most common causes of vulvovaginitis in women of all ages. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), other causes are bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria in the vagina, and a sexually transmitted infection (STI), trichomonas vaginitis.
Allergic reaction and irritation can come from bubble baths, soaps, vaginal contraceptives, feminine sprays, perfumes and even lost tampons. Tight-fitting or nonabsorbent clothing can also be behind vulvovaginitis.
UMMC says nonspecific vulvovaginitis can occur because of poor genital hygiene. Bacteria are sometimes spread from the rectum to the vaginal area by wiping from back to front after using the toilet.
Diagnosis may be difficult because of the numerous different causes of vulvovaginitis. AAPR says many women assume they have a yeast infection and take over-the-counter medicines without consulting their doctors. They wrote, "It is not advisable to take over-the-countervaginal yeast infection medicines if one does not have a yeast infection."
NIH lists symptoms as irritation and itching of the genital area, irritation, redness, and swelling of the labia majora, labia minora, or perineal area; vaginal discharge; foul vaginal odor; and discomfort or burning when urinating.
Vulvovaginitis is a condition with minor symptoms and most women respond well to medications. AARP warns it is believed that certain vaginal infections, if left untreated, can lead to more serious conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometritis, post-surgical infections, and spread of the AIDS virus.
Treatment of vulvovaginitis includes antibiotics, antihistamine and antifungal, antibacterial, cortisone and estrogen creams.
There are several ways to prevent vulvovaginitis according to AARP. For one, avoid douching. This is because it may disturb the balance of organisms in the vagina and may spread them higher into the reproductive system.
It is important to thoroughly dry after bathing and promptly remove gym clothes or wet bathing suits. Avoid wearing tight clothing and wear cotton underwear. Always clean diaphragms, cervical caps and spermicide applicators after use. Use condoms to avoid sexually transmitted disease. After bowel movements, wipe from front to back to avoid spreading intestinal bacteria to the vagina.
Vulvovaginitis. PubMed Health by National Center for Biotechnology Information and U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web 20 Sept 2011
Vulvovaginitis. UMM.edu by University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Web 20 Sept 2011
Vulvovaginitis. By James Holencik, DO. cchseast.org by the ClevelandClinic. Web 20 Sept 2011
Vulvovaginitis. Healthtools.aarp.org by AARP. Web 20 Sept 2011.
Your Vulva, Vagina, and Breasts. PlannedParenthood.org by Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. Web 20 Sept 2011.
Reviewed September 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith