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Vaginitis in Children

What Is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is inflammation (redness, soreness, or swelling) in and around the vagina. The vulva (the area around the opening of the vagina) also might be irritated, in which case it is called vulvovaginitis.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Vaginitis?

Often, girls with vaginitis (va-jih-NYE-tiss) have:

  • itching, burning, or pain
  • redness, soreness, or swelling around the opening to the vagina
  • discharge (fluid) coming from the vagina, or stains on their underpants (can sometimes be tinged with blood)
  • pain or burning when peeing

What Causes Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is common in girls of all ages. It’s especially common before puberty, when the lining of the vagina and the skin of the vulva are very thin. Soap, laundry detergent, fabric softener, tight clothing, wet diapers or swimsuits, or sand can bother this area, leading to vaginitis.

Vaginitis can happen when girls don't clean themselves well after using the toilet. Getting a little piece of toilet paper or something else stuck in the vagina also can cause it.

But sometimes vaginitis can be a sign of infection:

How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?

Doctors usually can diagnose vaginitis in children by doing an exam of the area with a parent or chaperone in the room and asking about symptoms. They might send a sample of the fluid for testing if the vaginitis may be due to an infection or if symptoms do not get better after treatment.

How Is Vaginitis Treated?

The best treatment for vaginitis is improving a child’s hygiene. If the vaginitis is caused by an infection, the doctor will prescribe medicine.

Most girls can treat vaginitis with sitz baths. To do this, they should:

  • Sit in a tub of plain (not soapy) warm water.
  • Spread their legs so the water cleans the vaginal area.
  • Soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Pat the vaginal area dry with a clean towel.

They also should avoid irritating soaps, chemicals, and tight-fitting clothing.

Can Vaginitis Be Prevented?

These bathing tips can help the irritation get better and protect girls from getting vaginitis again:

  • Don't use bubble bath.
  • Don't use soap in the vaginal area.
  • Use soap and shampoo at the end of the bath and don't sit in water with soap or shampoo in it.
  • Rinse the vaginal area off with plain water at the end of the shower or bath.

Other things to help prevent vaginitis:

  • Avoid tight clothing such as tights, leotards, and leggings.
  • Don't sit in a wet swimsuit for long periods of time.
  • Wear white cotton underpants.
  • Wash underpants with a mild detergent without fabric softener, rinse twice to get all the soap out, and dry without dryer sheets.
  • Sleep in a nightgown or loose pajama pants without underpants so air can move freely around the vaginal area during sleep.
  • Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 1, 2023

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