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Vulvovaginitis is a general term that can describe many types of inflammation and irritation of the external vulva, internal vagina, or both. Vaginal infections are very common in women of all ages, and many types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses can result in symptoms. A woman who experiences uncomfortable itching, redness, painful urination, or unusual vaginal discharge should visit her gynecologist right away to obtain a diagnosis and receive treatment. Most cases of vulvovaginitis are easy to treat with antibiotics and good hygiene practices, and symptoms are usually relieved in less than one week.
The most common cause of vulvovaginitis is bacterial infection due to sexually transmitted diseases, poor hygiene practices, or undetermined causes. Prepubescent girls are more likely to experience bacterial infections than older women, as vaginal fluids become more acidic after puberty and thus more capable of killing foreign bacteria. Fungal infections, including yeast infections, are very common in women who take antibiotics for other conditions. The vulva and vagina can also become inflamed because of a heat or friction rash, allergic reaction to soap or perfume, or an estrogen deficiency.
Symptoms can vary with different types of vulvovaginitis, though most cases of inflammation result in skin redness, mild swelling, and constant itchiness. A woman may notice a foul odor and creamy white or yellow vaginal discharge as an infection worsens. Some people experience burning sensations while urinating and pain when inserting tampons. In addition, abdominal pain, fatigue, and fever accompany some types of vulvovaginitis.
It is important to see a primary care doctor or gynecologist at the first signs of inflammation. A doctor can conduct a physical examination, ask questions about symptoms, and collect a sample of mucus or tissue for laboratory analysis. By viewing discharge under a microscope, the gynecologist can identify the type and severity of a bacterial or fungal infection. Additional tests may be conducted if the doctor suspects a sexually transmitted disease or allergy. Treatment for vulvovaginitis depends largely on the cause and the seriousness of the problem.
Most bacterial infections that cause vulvovaginitis respond well to oral antibiotics. Yeast infections and other types of fungal problems may need to be treated with a vaginal suppository or topical cream. A patient may need to take estrogen supplements or antihistamines to combat other causes. Regardless of the cause, it is important for a woman with vulvovaginitis to maintain proper hygiene and schedule regular appointments with her gynecologist to help prevent future infections.