What Is Vulvovaginitis?

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on November 23, 2022
4 min read

Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of your vulva and vagina. It’s also called vaginitis or vulvitis. It’s a common condition -- as many as one-third of women will have it during their lifetime. It shows up most often during your reproductive years.

You get vaginitis when the normal amount of yeast and bacteria in your vagina gets out of balance. This could happen for several reasons, including an infection, a change in hormones, or antibiotic use. It could also be because of a reaction you have to something that comes into contact with your vulva or vagina.

There are three common types of vaginal infections that cause vaginitis.

Yeast infection. Sometimes you can have too much of a fungus called C. albicans, or any of several species of candida. You always have some candida in your vagina, but an overgrowth causes yeast infections and symptoms of vaginitis.

Bacterial vaginosis. A healthy vagina has several types of bacteria living in it. Some are “good” and some are “bad,” but they balance each other out. You get bacterial vaginosis when the bad bacteria start to outnumber the good bacteria.

Trichomoniasis. This type of vaginitis  is not a normal bacterial infection. It's considered a STD and comes from a tiny, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. You get it through having sex with someone who’s infected. Men who have the parasite don’t usually have any symptoms.

Though those are usually the culprits behind most cases of vaginitis, you can also get it from:

Typically, the symptoms you get from vaginitis all happen in your vagina or just outside it, on your vulva. What you’ll feel will depend on what’s causing your vaginitis. It’s possible to have more than one type of vaginitis at a time.

Symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Dryness
  • Rash, blisters or bumps

You may also notice:

  • Discomfort when you urinate
  • Pain during sex
  • Light bleeding (spotting)
  • Discharge and odor

Abnormal discharge is one of the most common symptoms of vaginitis. It may give your doctor clues to what’s causing your vaginitis.

Discharge from a yeast infection is typically white, odorless, and clumpy, similar to cottage cheese. Itching is also a common complaint.

Discharge from bacterial vaginosis is heavier than usual but thin, fishy-smelling, and gray or green in color.

Discharge from trichomoniasis also has a fishy odor, but is yellow-green, and sometimes frothy.

If you’re noticing changes in your discharge, or other symptoms, your doctor can check things out to see how best to treat you. They’ll ask you about your medical history, including your sexual history. They’ll also want to know if you’ve been using anything that may be causing your vaginitis, like new detergent or spermicide.

Your doctor will also take a sample of your discharge or send it to a lab so it can be examined under a microscope to see what kind of vaginitis you have.

If you’ve had vaginitis before and recognize your symptoms, you may be able to treat the problem yourself without seeing your doctor -- for instance, if you’ve had a yeast infection before and you’re sure your symptoms point to another yeast infection.

It’s important to know exactly what’s causing your vaginitis. To treat vaginitis due to an allergic reaction or outside irritation, you need to figure out the source of the problem and eliminate it. Your doctor may suggest a topical cream to help soothe any itching or burning.

If your vaginitis is caused by an infection, you’ll need the right kind of medicine to treat it.

Yeast infections can be cured with antifungal medications. There are pills you can take, like fluconazole (Diflucan). You can also use a suppository (a pill you insert into your vagina) or a prescription antifungal cream.

Common antifungal creams and suppositories for yeast infections are:

There are many over-the-counter options for treating yeast infections that are safe and effective. If you’ve never had a yeast infection, check with your doctor before you take them. You should also talk to your doctor if you take over-the-counter medications and don’t see any change in your symptoms.

You can treat both bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis with a medication called metronidazole (Flagyl). When you’re treating trichomoniasis, you take it in pill form by mouth. You can also take metronidazole to treat bacterial vaginosis, or you can use clindamycin topical (Cleocin T) or metronidazole gel (MetroGel Vaginal) in your vagina.

You may be able to reduce your chances of getting vaginitis by doing a few things, including:

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes that might hold in heat and moisture
  • Don’t use perfumed soaps or sprays on or in your vagina
  • Don’t douche
  • Use a condom during sex

Talk to your doctor during menopause about whether you can take pills or use cream to help treat vaginal dryness.