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One day your vagina feels perfectly normal, the next, your labia looks like it’s been filled with helium. Wait, what’s the deal with this vaginal swelling?
First things first, it’s not really your vagina that’s swelling. It’s actually the outside of your bits (aka the vulva). The swelling may be a little alarming, but it’s not at all uncommon. Periods, sex, and pregnancy can all cause the vulva area (especially the vaginal lips) to swell up.
But, swelling could also indicate a health condition, disease, or disorder. If you have a fever higher than 100°F (37.7°C), are having severe pain, or start bleeding heavily, get to emergency medical treatment stat.
But, regardless of the cause, a swollen vag is definitely not comfy. If you’re feeling like a pufferfish is in your pants, don’t stress. Here’s what could be the culprit for your vaginal swelling and what to do about it.
If your vulva region is swollen, a new body wash or laundry detergent may be to blame. Chemicals in bath products, lotions, perfumes, or even harsh toilet papers can cause sensitivity.
What to do? If you’re using any new products around the vulva area (your outside bits), stop using them to see if the swelling, itching, or burning stops. Not even your brand-new body wash is worth this ish.
Things you put inside your vag can also cause probs like inflammation and irritation. This includes:
What to do? If you’ve used any of these products recently, stop using them to see if the swelling subsides.
Sex needs lubrication to go smoothly. If there’s not enough, all that friction cause discomfort or swelling (ouch). Sexual assault also often causes swelling and pain.
What to do? Taking an OTC pain reliever or applying a cold compress can help discomfort and swelling. Tearing can also happen, so make sure you also watch out for any sign of infection like discharge or fever. If that happens call your doc ASAP.
If you’re a sexual assault survivor, there are resources that can offer you support.
RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline for confidential support for survivors of sexual assault. Call the 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 or chat online with a counselor at hotline.rainn.org.
You can find additional resources for sexual assault or domestic violence survivors, here.
The vagina needs to maintain a delicate balance of “good” bacteria to stay healthy. If any “bad” bacteria thrives and takes over the good guys, you can develop bacterial vaginosis (BV). According to the CDC, BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44.
Swelling with BV is not common (but possible). You’re more likely to experience:
- burning sensation
- pain when peeing
- a fishy discharge or odor
What to do? The jury’s still out on why BV occurs, but it does emerge more often in people who have sex. If you think you might have BV, talk to your doctor. They can prescribe an oral or topical antibacterial medication.
In the meantime, eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, practicing good hygiene, and wearing loose, breathable clothes can help ease discomfort.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that leads to swelling, tenderness and redness. If you somehow got a cut down there or a boil got infected, you could have cellulitis.
What to do? Keeping the area clean can help fight infection. If you experience persistent pain, talk to your doctor right away. You may need antibiotics to treat it before it spreads further.
The condition happens when the Candida fungus flourishes down there a bit more than usual. In addition to puffiness, symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- a burning sensation
- pain while peeing
- discomfort during sex
- redness and irritation
- white, lumpy discharge
What to do? If this is your first yeast infection rodeo, visit your doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis. Since other conditions can be confused with a yeast infection, it’s best to play it safe.
If you’ve had a yeast infection before and know what to expect, you may be able to treat it with an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-fungal treatment.
- genital herpes
In addition to swelling, you may also experience:
- pelvic pain
- yellow or bloody discharge
- spotting between periods
What to do? Call your doc if you have any of these symptoms. They can perform a pelvic exam to help diagnose the cause. Not everyone who gets cervicitis has an STI or an infection, though, so don’t stress just yet.
If you have small blisters in addition to swelling, genital herpes might be the culprit.
Genital herpes (caused by HSV, the herpes simplex virus) is one of the most common STIs in the U.S. — according to the CDC, 1 in every 6 people ages 14 to 49 have HSV.
In addition to sores that tend to ooze clear fluid, you might also experience:
- body aches
FYI: Not everyone with herpes has a blisters outbreak. Some people experience virtually no symptoms.
What to do? If you think you might have herpes (and if so, don’t freak just yet), head to your doctor. Though there’s no treatment, prescription antiviral medication can help manage the STI. Daily anti-herpes medication can also prevent the risk of spreading the infection to your partner.
From ballooning feet to inexplicable pickle cravings, it’s no secret that being pregnant messes with the bod.
As a fetus grows, added pelvic pressure can also cause pooling blood and drainage probs. Sometimes, this leads to a swollen vulva, discomfort, or pain.
What to do? To alleviate pregnancy-related swelling, lie down and rest up as much as possible. If you think you might be pregnant, take a test and visit your healthcare provider.
Gartner’s duct cysts sometimes grow post-pregnancy. When parts of a vaginal duct that grow in a fetus linger after birth, they can attach to the vaginal wall. Cysts and swelling might then develop.
These typically aren’t reason for concern unless they grow large, cause pain or become infected.
What to do? If you have a painful cyst, talk to your doc. A simple surgery might be the answer.
Have a mirror handy? Anatomy lesson time: You can find your Bartholin’s glands located on both sides of your vagina’s opening. These glands produce the natural lube your vagina needs.
Sometimes, though, they become infected and fill with pus (ek!). Some symptoms of Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses include:
- burning sensation
What to do? These cysts often drain on their own. In the meantime, taking a warm bath can help ease pain. If the cysts persist after a week or the pain is severe, talk to a medical professional about treatment.
Sometimes a swollen vulva will go away on its own. Other times, you’ll need to see a doctor for treatment options.
You should always visit your doctor if you also experience symptoms like:
- a fever or chills
- your symptoms persist for over a week
- the swelling becomes painful or debilitating
- you have unusual discharge or there is a bad odor
Your doctor may conduct a pelvic exam, perform blood tests, or take samples to determine the root of the issue. Until you visit your doc, avoid having sex in case you have an STI.
To boost your comfort while you wait it out, take warm baths, keep clean (don’t douche), and wear loose, airy clothes. Your vag should be back to normal once you have the right treatment.