Vulvovaginitis in girls

Vulvovaginitis in girls before puberty

Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vulva and vagina. It is common in young girls. Parents often become aware of it when their child complains about redness and soreness of the skin around their genital area.

Key points

  1. Vulvovaginitis is inflammation of the vulva and vagina.
  2. It causes itching, redness and soreness.
  3. It is most common in girls between the ages of 3 and 10.
  4. Childhood vulvovaginitis will always improve at puberty if not before. It is a different condition from vulvovaginitis in adult women
  5. Most often, it can be treated at home through removing any irritants and teaching your child good hygiene practices. 

Why is vulvovaginitis common in girls before puberty? 

Before puberty, girls are prone to vulvovaginitis because their vagina and vulva are thin and less resistant to infection. Their vagina is not as acidic as it becomes after puberty, so bacteria can easily grow and cause infection. 

Also, young girls are still learning how to toilet themselves. The may not wipe their bottom correctly or thoroughly enough. Bacteria from the bottom can irritate the sensitive genital area. 

What causes vulvovaginitis?

Most commonly, vulvovaginitis is caused when the skin becomes irritated. This may be caused by:

  • urine (wee) or faeces (poo) that is not wiped away after toileting
  • soaps or bubble baths
  • tight-fitting clothing
  • scratchy toilet paper.

Unlike adult women, in girls who have not reached puberty, symptoms are not often caused by thrush (candida).

Itching that is worse at nighttime and mostly around the anus may be a sign of threadworms.

How is vulvovaginitis in girls treated?

Treatment of vulvovaginitis depends on the cause. For young girls, this normally involves identifying and avoiding the irritant causing it and teaching your child how to keep their genital area clean. The following tips may help:

  • Teach your child to use a front to back motion when wiping.
  • Change underpants daily or more frequently if soiled.
  • Wear loose-fitting comfortable underwear and outer clothing.
  • Avoid tight-fitting nylon clothing such as leotards and pants that restrict airflow and promote sweating. Cotton underwear is best.
  • Avoid using bubble baths and harsh soaps; try a soap-free cleanser instead of conventional soap.
  • Daily soap-free baths can be soothing and will improve hygiene.
  • Encourage your child to gently use her fingers to separate the folds of her vulva to clean them.
  • Teach her to pat dry the vulva with a clean towel after bathing rather than rubbing vigorously.
  • Bland emollients creams can be used to help soothe irritation. 

Learn more 

Sore bottoms in young girls KidsHealth, NZ, 2017

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Jeremy Tuohy, Researcher & Clinician, University of Auckland