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What is vulvovaginitis?

Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vulva or vagina. It's very common in girls who haven't reached puberty yet.

Young girls don't have the hormone oestrogen. Without oestrogen, the skin of their vulvas is thin and delicate. This means that bacteria or vaginal discharge can easily irritate their skin.

Sometimes, worms or labial fusion can lead to vulvovaginitis or make it worse. Thrush is almost never a cause of vulvovaginitis at this age.

Very rarely, vulvovaginitis symptoms might be caused by sexual abuse.

Symptoms of vulvovaginitis

A red and sore vulva is the most common symptom of vulvovaginitis. Your daughter might also get smelly discharge from the vagina, or complain of burning when she urinates.

Occasionally your daughter's vulva might be itchy if she has eczema or a skin condition called lichen sclerosis, which also affects the vulva.

If your daughter has lots of itchiness and pain that is worse at night in bed, it might be because of worms.

Vulvovaginitis symptoms often come and go. Some days or weeks your daughter might not have any problems, and then she might have symptoms for several days or weeks.

Symptoms can last until your daughter reaches puberty.

Does your child need to see a doctor about vulvovaginitis?

There's usually no need for your daughter to see the GP for vulvovaginitis unless:

  • her symptoms don't go away after trying the simple treatment measures listed below
  • there's blood in any discharge from your daughter's vagina
  • you're generally worried about your daughter's symptoms or her safety.

Treatment for vulvovaginitis

If your daughter has vulvovaginitis, you can take some steps at home to help her feel more comfortable.

To start with, she should avoid anything that might irritate her vulva and vagina. For example, try changing laundry products or toilet paper to see whether this is the cause of irritation.

If the irritation isn't settling, these daily steps can improve symptoms:

  • Give your child a vinegar bath. Add ½ cup of white vinegar to a shallow lukewarm bath and get your daughter 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 Vaseline.

If your daughter has eczema or lichen sclerosis, your GP might prescribe a corticosteroid cream, which is effective and safe.

If your daughter has worms that might be causing the irritation, you can treat these easily with antiparasitic medication. You can get this medication over the counter from your pharmacy. Your daughter will probably need two doses.

Vulvovaginitis prevention

Until the skin on your daughter's vulva becomes stronger and less sensitive when she reaches puberty, it can be hard to completely prevent vulvovaginitis.

Encouraging your daughter to have these good toilet and personal hygiene habits can help:

  • Taking regular baths or showers, making sure to wash vulvas gently.
  • Weeing regularly including before every meal or snack and before bed.
  • Putting on clean underwear every day.
  • Wiping bottoms from front to back after weeing or pooing.
  • Washing hands with water and soap after going to the toilet.