5 Causes and 5 Symptoms of Vulvitis

If you have symptoms of vulvitis, it's important that you see your gynecologist before starting treatment on your own. While this isn't a severe problem, it requires professional attention.
5 Causes and 5 Symptoms of Vulvitis
Maricela Jiménez López

Written and verified by the doctor Maricela Jiménez López.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Vulvitis is inflammation of the vulva. It usually occurs as a result of the use of perfumed soaps when washing private parts, although this isn’t the only possible cause. It can also occur for other reasons, such as irritations, injuries and allergies. Read on to learn about the symptoms of vulvitis.

Depending on the cause, vulvitis can cause different types of discomfort.

Genital herpes, vaginitis and yeast infections can cause (among other symptoms) vulvitis. And according to Dr. Oluwatosin Goje, constant contact with urine and feces can cause chronic vulvitis (as can happen in women who are incontinent or bedridden).

If you think you have vulvitis, the best thing to do is to have a gynecological check-up to detect the cause and take appropriate measures.

Causes of vulvitis

Your private parts are incredibly delicate. So, there are many factors that can affect the area. There are several reasons why this swelling can happen. The most important are:

1. Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis usually causes burning and itching. However, you can stay calm because this isn’t an infection. Rather, this happens when your skin comes into contact with irritating substances and becomes inflamed. These can be:

  • Soaps
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Vaginal douches
  • Condoms
  • Spermicides
  • Scented toilet paper
  • Tampons

2. Sexually transmitted infections

For example, herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are three diseases that can cause vulvar infections.

These diseases usually cause issues like:

  • Itching
  • Burning when urinating
  • Pain
  • Intense secretions that can be yellow, green or grey with a strong smell.

3. Vaginal mycosis

Vaginal mycosis is another one of the most common causes of vulvitis. This is an infection caused by yeast that can cause genital itching and thick secretions.

Fortunately, yeast infections can be treated very easily with antibiotics. In some cases, over the counter yeast treatments are enough. In more severe cases, your doctor should prescribe a specialized medication.

Symptoms fo vulvitis: a digital image of a yeast infection.

4. Bacterial infections

The bacterial flora in your body is beneficial because it helps strengthen your immune system. However, certain bacteria can excessively multiply and cause vulvitis. Unfortunately, this can happen when you use antibiotics. While they not only get rid of the bacteria that are causing the issue, they also affect your bacterial flora.

For example, bacteria that cause this condition are:

  • Streptococcus
  • Gardnerella
  • Staphylococcus

Also, bacterial vulvitis is accompanied by a white or greyish fluid. This tends to have a fishy odor.

5. Low levels of estrogen

Levels of this hormone naturally get lower as time goes on. This isn’t a common cause. However, some women develop this condition as a result of low estrogen levels.

Those who suffer from this problem can have occasional pain in the area and vaginal dryness. Because of this, it’s likely that they will have some problems during sex.

Symptoms of vulvitis

The symptoms that tell you that you’re suffering from this condition are rather varied.

1. Burning

One of the most irritating symptoms of vulvitis is burning. Notably, this feeling is more evident when you urinate and after sex. Also, this burning can get worse when you’re about to start your period.

2. Reddening of the vulvar area

This is caused by increased blood flow in the capillaries. Also, this symptom usually comes with swelling and increased vaginal secretion. You’ll notice it because rubbing of clothes or movements when walking will cause a more discomfort than usual. It’s important that you don’t scratch or apply any remedy that isn’t given to you by your doctor.

3. Painful sex

An activity as pleasant as having sex with your partner can become really uncomfortable if you have this condition. This happens because the skin rubbing together can worsen the redness and swelling. If you find that it’s too hard or fast, you’ll feel a deep pain.

4. Pain while urinating

Feeling pain, burning, or itching while urinating isn’t common or normal. Usually, this may happen when you have problems with your kidneys. However, it can also happen when you suffer from vulvitis. To figure out which is the cause, you just need to see if you have other symptoms of vulvitis.

A woman with cystitis.

5. Irregular discharge

The last of these symptoms of vulvitis is having different discharge than normal. All women have a certain amount of this fluid. This is part of their body’s hygiene mechanisms. This is a clear fluid, and it doesn’t have a bad color or smell. In contrast, the fluid caused by vulvitis is distinct and comes in larger amounts. Its smell also will change and be a little unpleasant.

Visit your gynecologist as soon as you notice these changes

We recommend not falling into the trap of turning to douches in order to try to get rid of the signs of irregular discharge. Instead, visit your gynecologist so that they can see if the real problem is vulvitis. They can recommend the best treatment depending on the cause and how advanced the case is. While it’s not difficult to treat, you shouldn’t self-medicate.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • McCormack, W. M. (1990). Two urogenital sinus syndromes. Interstitial cystitis and focal vulvitis. The Journal of reproductive medicine35(9), 873-876.
  • McKay, M. (1991). Vulvitis and vulvovaginitis: cutaneous considerations. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology165(4), 1176-1182.
  • Peckham, B. M., Maki, D. G., Patterson, J. J., & Hafez, G. R. (1986). Focal vulvitis: A characteristic syndrome and cause of dyspareunia: Features, natural history, and management. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology154(4), 855-864.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.