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Vulvovaginitis in Children & Teens

By: Jacqueline Tran & Deepti Gupta, MD, FAAP

Vulvovaginitis is an irritation and swelling of skin in and around the vulva and vagina in the female genital area. It can cause redness, soreness, vaginal discharge and itchiness. Here's what parents need to know about vulvovaginitis, ways to help prevent it and how to help your child heal if they develop the condition.

How common is vulvovaginitis?

Vulvovaginitis is common and can occur in females of all ages. The skin around the vulva and vagina is very thin and easily irritated. This is especially true for young children, who may be more prone to the condition. Also, the warm and wet environment allows for bacteria and yeast to grow, and these germs irritate the skin and lining of the area.

What are some common causes vulvovaginitis in children and teens?

Toddlers and girls before puberty most commonly develop vulvovaginitis from staying damp around the crotch. The warm and wet environment allows for bacteria and yeast to grow, and these germs irritate the skin and lining of the area.

Other common causes of vulvovaginitis include wearing tight-fitting underwear, harsh detergents or too much soap, bubble baths and other products added to the bath, especially products with fragrance.

Foreign materials in the area, such as bits of toilet paper, can also cause vulvovaginitis. Teenagers and adults can also develop vulvovaginitis from irritation that comes with sexual activity.

Signs and symptoms of vulvovaginitis

The most common symptoms of vulvovaginitis include itchiness, vaginal discharge, redness, and irritation of the outer skin of the vulva and the lining of the labia and vagina. It is important to consider any new soaps, detergents, bath additives, clothes, or activities (like swimming or other sports) that might help to explain the new irritated rash.

Vulvovaginitis treatment and management options

It is most important to keep the area clean and dry. Clean the area daily in a warm bath of plain water or a warm shower with water running over the area without exposing the lining of the vulva and vagina to any soaps. Gently pat the skin dry without rubbing hard.

If the skin appears red and irritated, apply a thin layer of plain petroleum jelly to the skin which acts as a barrier. Avoid using any products with fragrance or any creams, lotions, or powders as these products may all add to the irritation. Also, avoid using packaged wipes while the skin is irritated as the ingredients in these wipes can make the rash worse.

Prescription medicines are occasionally necessary to resolve the irritated skin or treat any associated infections.

How to prevent vulvovaginitis

To help prevent vulvovaginities, choose loose clothing, keep the crotch area clean and dry, and avoid harsh soaps, wipes, and products with fragrance.

Here are some other ways to help young children learn how to care for this easily irritated area & help prevent vulvovaginitis:

  • Wiping from front to back after peeing and pooping

  • Washing hands after using the bathroom whether peeing or pooping

  • Drying the area completely after showers, baths, or swimming

  • Avoid sitting in wet or tight-fitting bathing suits or clothing for long periods of time

  • Use only water to clean the vulva and vagina

When to contact your pediatrician

If symptoms persist after 2 to 3 weeks, consider contacting your pediatrician to learn more about what treatment options might be right for your child.

More information

About the authors

Jacqueline Tran, a fourth-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Sections on Dermatology Subcommittee on Education and Pediatric Trainees Learning and Growth Workgroup.

Deepti Gupta, MD, FAAP, is a pediatric dermatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Dermatology, at the University of Washington. Dr. Gupta serves on the AAP Section on Dermatology Subcommittee on Education.

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American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Dermatology (Copyright © 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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