Vaginitis is a common problem that impacts women of all ages, including children. Children's Hospital Boston explains that vaginitis refers to the inflammation or infection of the vagina. There are a number of causes of vaginitis. The normal microflora (balance of natural bacteria) can be disrupted by medications, harsh soaps, diapers and even poor hygiene. A medical professional should be consulted any time a child has unusual vaginal odor to ensure proper treatment.
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Like adult females, children can develop a vaginal odor that is considered to be normal. Wearing a diaper can exacerbate the odor, especially when mixed with the odor of urine and feces. Bathing and frequent diaper changes can help keep the odor under control, but with no other symptoms, this type of odor is perfectly healthy. This odor can become more intense as the child enters puberty, especially as menstruation nears.
Bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by bacteria, is a common ailment for females. It most often affects women of childbearing age, but it can impact children. Like yeast, bacteria are found naturally in the vagina. When the bacteria is upset and overproduces, an infection is the result. The result can be a fishy odor from the vagina with discharge. The vaginal secretions are often thin, almost milky. It can also be heavy and gray in color, explains the Children's Hospital Boston. Merck Manuals explains that a child can spread bacteria from the anus to the vagina by wiping from back to front instead of the opposite. Like yeast, the bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments. A child who is potty training may wear nonabsorbent underwear during this transition or may remain in soiled undergarments for extended periods of time. Other common causes of bacterial vaginosis in a child include putting a toy or tissue in the vagina or itching with dirty hands.
Vaginal irritation can cause odor and other symptoms. This noninfectious form of vaginitis can be caused by perfumed soaps, detergents or fabric softeners, explains Children's Hospital. In some children this can be an allergic reaction to such chemicals. In addition to unusual odor, the child may have itching, burning or discharge. Bathing in overly soapy baths or rinsing inadequately are other ways a child can cause vaginal irritation.