A swollen vulva is a common symptom of vaginitis, which is an inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis often results from a bacterial, yeast, or viral infection or an imbalance in vaginal bacteria. Certain skin disorders or low levels of estrogen can also cause the condition to occur.
When your vagina and vulva are both inflamed, it’s known as vulvovaginitis. In addition to a swollen vulva, vaginitis could lead to:
- unusual vaginal discharge
- pain during sex
- pain while peeing
- light bleeding or spotting
If these symptoms last for more than a couple of days, see your doctor. They can figure out what’s causing your symptoms and develop a treatment plan suited to your needs.
Keep reading to learn more about what may be behind your symptoms.1. Allergic reaction
An allergic reaction that causes your vulva to swell is known as noninfectious vaginitis.
This can result from chemicals in:
- perfumed soaps
- scented detergents
These and other products that come into contact with your vulva and vagina can cause irritation and inflammation.What you can do
If you suspect an allergic reaction, stop using the product or wearing the item of clothing that may be causing irritation. Limiting your exposure to irritants should help ease the swelling.
You could also use an over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone cream to reduce your symptoms. If the swelling continues, you should see your doctor. They may recommend a sitz bath or a prescription topical cream for treatment.
A swollen vulva is normal after any sexual encounter. Sexual arousal causes increased blood flow to the area, causing it to swell and become puffy. Your clitoris may also enlarge.
Your vulva may swell if there wasn’t enough lubricant during penetration. This can irritate the area.What you can do
Your vulva shouldn’t stay swollen for long, and you can use a cold compress to ease any swelling or puffiness.
Although swelling is a normal symptom of arousal, you can take some proactive measures to avoid serious swelling. Be sure to keep natural or store-bought lubricant on hand to avoid friction and stay away from products that could cause an allergic reaction.3. Yeast infection
In addition to swelling, you may experience:
- thick white discharge
- intense itchiness
- burning sensation
- pain or soreness
If your symptoms are severe, or you’ve had four or more infections in a year, you should see your doctor.What you can do
You can use an OTC antifungal vaginal cream, ointment, or suppository to stop the reaction and alleviate the swelling.
If this is the first time you’ve had symptoms of an yeast infection — or if they don’t disappear with at-home treatment — you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor will prescribe either a single-dose or multi-dose oral antifungal medication. They may also recommend maintenance therapy if you have recurring yeast infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common form of vaginitis, affecting up to a third of women in the United States. It’s caused by an imbalance in the bacteria found in your vagina, and it can lead to an off-white or gray discharge and a fishy smell. Although a swollen vulva isn’t a common symptom, it’s still possible.What you can do
For some women, symptoms of bacterial vaginosis resolve on their own. You should never use OTC yeast products to treat bacterial vaginosis, because it could make the infection worse.
BV symptoms do mimic other forms of vaginitis, so you should see your doctor if your symptoms persist. They can rule out any other conditions and prescribe medication to help ease your symptoms.5. Pregnancy
A swollen vulva is a common symptom of pregnancy. Your growing uterus will block your blood flow in your pelvic region, causing your vulva and legs to swell. The swelling becomes worse as you go further along in your pregnancy.
But that’s not the only change to your vulva; because your uterus and embryo require more blood to flow in your genital area, your vulva will also change colors to a bluish tinge.What you can do
You could try some home remedies to treat your swollen vulva. You could use a cold compress or cold-water rinse to reduce swelling.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms or have any questions, make sure to bring them up to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to rule out any other underlying conditions, like cysts or bacterial vaginosis.6. Bartholin’s cyst
A Bartholin’s cyst is a small sac filled with fluid that appears just inside the vaginal opening. It’s soft and painless, and often doesn’t lead to any symptoms.
But if the Bartholin’s cyst grows large, it can become uncomfortable and lead to pain in your vulva when you have sex, walk, or sit down.
If your vulva is swollen, red, tender, and hot, that means the cyst has become infected and has caused an abscess in one of the Bartholin’s glands. These are pea-sized glands found on the left and right side of the vaginal opening.What you can do
You should see your doctor right away if your vulva has become:
After making a diagnosis, your doctor may recommend soaking in some warm water several times a day for up to four days, or holding a warm compress against the area to reduce the cyst and any swelling.
If you have an abscess, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to kill the infection, and then drain the cyst.7. Genital Crohn’s disease
Genital Crohn’s disease is the skin condition caused by granulomas developed from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. It’s a rare disease that can cause persistent swelling of the vulva, in addition to cracks, erosions, and hollow cavities in the genital area.What you can do
You should see your doctor if your vulva is swollen for more than a few days. They may prescribe a topical steroid or calcineurin inhibitor to help reduce any swelling. Your doctor may also recommend antiseptic cleansers to treat secondary infection or skin fissures.General tips for management and prevention
You can ease — and even prevent — a swollen vulva by following these tips and tricks.You can
- Practice good hygiene. Avoiding baths, hot tubs, and whirlpool spas will reduce exposure to bacteria and fungi. Also, make sure to wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom to prevent the spread of fecal bacteria to your vagina.
- Don’t use products that can cause irritation. Avoid harsh soaps, scented tampons, pads, douches, and scented soaps. Also, to prevent irritation, make sure to rinse soap thoroughly from your genitals after a shower and dry the area well.
- Don’t douche. When you douche, you’re wiping out the good bacteria in your vagina. This allows the bad bacteria to overgrow and leads to vaginitis.
- Wear cotton underwear. Cotton underwear allows your genital area to breathe and will prevent yeast from growing.
- Always use a latex condom. Wearing a condom will prevent sexual infections from spreading.
You don’t have to wait for pain or discomfort to see your doctor. If your vulva is swollen for more than a few days, you should make a doctor’s appointment. But if you’re experiencing intense pain or discomfort, seek immediate medical attention. Your doctor will be able to diagnose the underlying condition causing your vulva to swell and recommend the appropriate treatment option.Reference:
Written by Annamarya Scaccia — Updated on March 7, 2019
Bartholin’s cyst. (2015).
Bacterial vaginosis. (2015).
Changes during pregnancy: What’s normal and what’s not? (n.d.).
Lyon C. (2014). Genital Crohn’s disease.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015). Yeast infection (vaginal).
Why is my vulva swelling so much with or after sex? (2008).
Photo Credit: Dainis Graveris