What increases my risk for vulvovaginitis?

Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist

Occasionally, vulvovaginitis, inflammation of the female genital area and vagina, can be caused by a response to the spermicide on a condom or the latex from which the condom is made. Alternatives would be to use condoms with no spermicide, non-latex condoms plus another form of birth control or use female condoms as well as the male condom. If this is due to a latex allergy, consult your primary care provider immediately.

Vulvovaginitis is a generic term for any sort of inflammation of the vagina, which can include infection or irritation from a different source. While it is possible for a woman to develop vulvovaginitis after menopause, it’s less common. That's because hormones are more stable after menopause and the estrogen-deprived tissue seems to be less susceptible to certain types of infection.

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

Vulvovaginitis is an inclusive term for infection or tissue irritation of the vagina and external structures of the labia and perineum. While any term ending in "itis" infers infection, it has come to be used with both infectious processes and some chronic dermatological or skin conditions. The type of vaginal infection can vary with age. Menopause may increase your risk of vulvovaginitis. Most recent data indicate that women have less yeast infections after menopause while the incidence of bacterial vaginosis infections increases.

You can develop vulvovaginitis at any time in your life, including in postmenopausal years. Some symptoms associated with vulvovaginitis, such as irritation, itching, burning or tenderness, may be worsened in postmenopausal women. This is caused by the thinning (atrophy) of vaginal tissues, especially those surrounding the opening of the vagina, due to a lack of estrogen hormones.

Vulvovaginitis can be caused by a variety of different factors, including fungi, bacterial or hormonal imbalances. The types of vulvovaginitis can be further classified by the contributory factors that can cause it. For example, bacterial vulvovaginitis, which is the most common variety, is caused by an abundance of pathogens in the vagina.

Your risk for contracting vulvovaginitis increases with certain activities that promote infection in the vagina. For example, you risk infection from a sexually transmitted disease by having sex with multiple partners (especially if they have a history of STD's) or not using a condom. Also, your risk increases if you practice poor genital hygiene habits, such as neglecting to wash your hands after going to the bathroom or before touching genital areas. Wiping from back to front can also cause an overabundance in the vagina of bacteria typically found in the anus.

Age can be another risk factor, because the lack of the hormone estrogen in menopausal women and girls who have not gone through puberty (prepubertal girls) can thin the walls of the vagina and increase the risk of infection. Other risk factors include wearing tight clothing, as that can create an environment suited for bacteria or yeast infections; pregnancy; or previous vaginal infections.

Symptoms of vulvovaginitis typically dissipate within a week of treatment with medication. However, vulvovaginitis can lead to serious, cause-specific complications if untreated. For example, if the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is the cause of vulvovaginitis, it can lead to serious conditions such as infertility in both women and men or an increased risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. If untreated, the vulvovaginitis infection may spread due to excessive itching, poor hygiene or contact through sexual intimacy. Depending on the cause, vulvovaginitis may also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.