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What is Vulvovaginitis?

Vulvovaginitis is an inflammation of both the vulva and the vagina. The vulva is a female’s outer genital area that includes the labia and the opening of the vagina and urethra. The vulva and vagina of a young girl who has not gone through puberty can easily become infected and irritated.

In young girls, the vagina is close to the anus, and the vulva lacks the protective labial tissue and pubic hair of an adult. Also, as children become more independent, they often lack the skills and knowledge to effectively clean themselves well, resulting in poor hygiene. Children with vulvovaginitis may complain of pain, itching, soreness, redness and burning around the vagina, or vaginal discharge and pain when urinating.

Causes of Vulvovaginitis

  • Irritation of the genital area due to detergents, harsh soaps, chemicals such as chlorine, bubble baths, poor hygiene practices or tight clothing
  • Infections, with bacteria or yeast
  • Pinworm
  • Contact irritants
  • Skin diseases such as eczema
  • Foreign body

Treatment for Vulvovaginitis

Since most vulvovaginitis is set off by poor hygiene, it is important to assist your child with good cleaning habits as she learns to clean herself. Symptoms will usually improve in a couple of weeks.

Below are some hygiene habits to teach children:

  • Urinate with knees spread apart. Stay seated on the toilet until finished to allow all the urine to come out.
  • Teach your child to wipe from front to back after bowel movements and urination.
  • Take a plain warm water bath, not a shower, every day.
  • Do not use bubble bath in the bathtub.
  • Do not shampoo your child's hair in the bathtub.
  • Avoid irritation. Have your child wear white cotton underpants and change them daily. Have the child sleep without underwear at night. For infants, change diapers frequently and leave open to the air for 10 minutes.
  • Do not dress your child in nylon underwear, tight jeans or leggings, pantyhose and tights.
  • Change your child's bathing suit as soon as finished swimming.
  • Pat pubic hair dry (or teach your child to do this) or air dry after bathing. Do not rub.
  • Do not use perfumed powders and sprays, bath beads, bath bombs, and gels.
  • Avoid harsh laundry detergents, bleach and fabric softeners.
  • Rinse underwear thoroughly to remove all soap powders.
  • Have your child urinate in the bathtub, or use a peribottle with water, to dilute the urine if the skin burns during urination
  • Use a mild hypoallergenic soap, such as Dove, Basis, Neutrogena or Dial. Avoid deodorant soaps.
  • Apply a barrier ointment (vaseline or zinc oxide) which are available over the counter) after baths or diaper changes.
  • Sometimes vulvovaginitis may require treatment with medication. If your doctor prescribes any medicines, use as directed.

Last Updated 11/2021

Reviewed By Christine Pennesi, MD

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.