When your vulva feels swollen, it’s often an indication that something is irritating your skin in this sensitive area. Irritation can come from many sources, including pads, pantyliners and tampons that are too thick, douches or vaginal sprays that contain harsh chemicals or fragrances, a long bubble bath or wearing synthetic underwear.
Women can experience a wide variety of causes for a vagina that feels swollen. From sex to a new laundry detergent, the reasons can be very different for each person. It is important to get a complete medical examination to find out exactly what the cause is so that the proper treatment can start immediately.
One of the most common reasons for a swollen vulva is that there has been an allergic reaction. This can be caused by perfumed soaps, detergents, or even a fragranced spray that comes into contact with the vulva area. Some of these products can contain preservatives that can disrupt the healthy microbes in the vulva area and cause itching, swollen, and redness.
Another reason is that the vulva is experiencing an infection, especially yeast infections (trichomoniasis or candida). This is caused when the normal flora of bacteria that produce hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid in the vagina become out of balance. Yeast can then thrive in this environment, creating a thick, itchy discharge that has a strong odor.
It is also possible that the swollen vulva is due to pregnancy. This is very common due to the many hormonal changes that are taking place during this time in a woman’s life. The uterus is putting pressure on the vulva and increasing blood flow to it, which can also cause a feeling of fullness.
When the vulva or labia (the small fleshy areas on the outside of your genitals) become swollen, it can cause discomfort, pain and a feeling of being full. You may also have a watery or cottage cheese-like discharge, painful urination, or even spotting and bleeding. The good news is that a variety of treatments are available to help alleviate the symptoms.
Swollen vulva or vaginal tissues are typically the result of an infection or inflammation, like vaginitis. The most common types of vaginitis include yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. If you have a swollen vulva that’s accompanied by an unusual odor, pain, itching or a lump in the vulva, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Yeast infections and other types of vaginal inflammation can often be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat the infection, or a suppository of a glucocorticoid cream to help reduce inflammation and swelling.
A swollen vulva that’s due to an abscess or cyst can be treated with the help of an antibiotic, a sitz bath and the application of a warm compress to ease the inflammation. If the swollen vulva is caused by an injury, the doctor may conduct a pelvic exam to determine the cause of the injury and to perform tests for infections like a Bartholin cyst or other causes of vulvar swelling.
If your vulva is feeling swollen, book an appointment with your doctor to evaluate your clinical history and complete a pelvic exam. In some cases, you may need to undergo bloodwork as well. Depending on what is causing the swelling, your doctor will recommend specific treatment options.
Sometimes, swollen vulva is a sign of an infection, like a yeast infection or herpes. These infections can be caused by an overgrowth of a naturally occurring fungus that normally inhabits the vulva, called Candida albicans, explains our Boca OBGYN services. This overgrowth can lead to symptoms like itching, burning, skin cracking, and the formation of white plaques on the vulva.
Swollen vulva can also be caused by other STIs, including chlamydia and trichomoniasis. These STIs can cause tissue inflammation in the vulva and also have symptoms such as itching, tingling, pain while urinating, and changes in vaginal discharge.
Finally, a swollen vulva can be a sign of certain medications or hygiene products that can irritate the genital area. Some of these irritants include scented sprays, soaps and detergents, or certain hygiene practices such as douching that can disrupt the natural fluid balance in the vulva, leading to irritation and inflammation.
Another possible culprit is low estrogen levels due to menopause, perimenopause, or birth control use, which can lead to thin, abraded and inelastic vaginal tissues that are more susceptible to friction, swelling and infection. To prevent this, start by bringing some lube into the bedroom and using it often to increase hydration and decrease friction in the vulva.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
The vagina has a number of ducts and glands that, when blocked, can lead to infection. Blocked glands can create fluid-filled cysts or pus-filled abscesses that cause swelling, pain and tenderness. These are called Bartholin’s cysts and Gartner’s duct cysts, respectively. These can also develop on the labia or in the area around the mons pubis. A sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or trichomoniasis can also lead to vulva swelling. Per ACOG, this may include a painful urination or unusual discharge and an odor that can be fishy.
Chemical irritants in the genital and vulva areas are another reason for swelling. This can be caused by certain soaps, body washes, lotions and perfumes. It can even be triggered by certain fabrics, such as cotton or wool. If you suspect a reaction, try to limit the contact your vulva has with these chemicals and see if your swelling goes away.
If you suspect that a yeast infection is to blame for your swollen vulva, be sure to use anti-fungal meds. Home remedies like vinegar douching or yogurt are not effective for this type of infection and can actually make things worse. Speak to your gyno about this as soon as possible so they can prescribe the right medication for you. This could mean a prescription cream or, if necessary, oral medication.