Vulvovaginitis is irritation or inflammation of the vulva or vagina.
Vulvovaginitis is very common in the years before puberty. This is because young girls don’t have the hormone oestrogen. Without oestrogen, the skin of the vulva is thin and delicate. This means the skin can be easily irritated.
Very rarely, vulvovaginitis symptoms might be caused by sexual abuse.
Symptoms of vulvovaginitis
A discoloured and sore vulva is the most common symptom of vulvovaginitis. The vulva might look red on lighter skin or brown, purple or grey on darker skin. Your child might also get smelly discharge from the vagina or complain of burning when they urinate.
Vulvovaginitis symptoms often come and go. Some days or weeks your child might not have any problems, and then they might have symptoms for several days or weeks.
Symptoms can last until your child reaches puberty.
Occasionally your child’s vulva might be itchy if they have eczema or a skin condition called lichen sclerosis, which also affects the vulva. If the area is very itchy or your child has pain that’s worse at night in bed, it’s most likely because of worms.
Does your child need to see a doctor about vulvovaginitis?
There’s usually no need for your child to see the GP for vulvovaginitis unless your child has:
- symptoms that don’t go away with the simple treatment measures below
- blood in any vaginal discharge.
You should also see the GP if you’re generally worried about your child’s symptoms or your child’s safety.
Treatment for vulvovaginitis
If your child has vulvovaginitis, you can take some steps at home to help your child feel more comfortable.
To start with, your child should avoid anything that might irritate the vulva and vagina. For example, laundry products or toilet paper could be the cause of irritation, so you could try changing these.
If the irritation isn’t settling, these daily steps can help with symptoms:
- Give your child a vinegar bath. Add ½ cup of white vinegar to a shallow lukewarm bath and get your child to soak in it for 10-15 minutes. Do this for a few days.
- Apply a soothing barrier cream to the area – for example, nappy rash cream, soft paraffin cream or petroleum jelly.
Good toilet and personal hygiene habits can help with vulvovaginitis prevention in childhood:
- Take regular baths or showers, and make sure to wash the vulva gently with warm water. Avoid using soap or bubble bath products.
- Urinate regularly, including before every meal or snack and before bed.
- Put on clean underpants every day.
- Wipe the bottom from front to back after urinating or pooing.
- Wash hands with water and soap after going to the toilet.
Until the skin on your child’s vulva becomes stronger and less sensitive when they reach puberty, it can be hard to completely prevent vulvovaginitis.