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What Does It Mean When Your Vagina Is Swollen?

If your vagina is puffy, red, or irritated and you want to know what this could mean, read on. Although it isn’t normal for vaginas to become excessively swollen, it’s not uncommon. There are a number of reasons why vaginas become swollen, and we cover the ones you’re most likely to encounter here.

Symptoms of a swollen vagina

A swollen vagina can have symptoms ranging from puffiness and discomfort to pain, discharge, and spotting. There can be a number of causes, including an allergic reaction or inflammation due to various microbes. 

If you are dealing with a swollen vagina, it may affect a specific part of the vagina. You may have a swollen vulva or swollen perineum (the place between your vagina and anus). Your vagina, vulva, labia, or another area may look red and feel irritated or raw. Other symptoms may include an unusual discharge, painful urination, and light spotting or bleeding. 

Frequently, a swollen vagina is a sign of vaginitis, or vaginal inflammation. When the vaginal inflammation accompanies a swollen vulva, it is known as vulvovaginitis. Inflammation is most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection, an overgrowth of yeast, or an imbalance in vaginal bacteria. Vaginal swelling can also be caused by an allergic reaction or even a rough sexual encounter. If symptoms persist for more than a few days or get worse, talk to your doctor. 

Yeast infection

A common cause of a swollen vagina is a yeast infection, also called candidiasis. Candidiasis happens when yeast grows to unhealthy levels in the vagina, causing inflammation of its mucous wall. It’s a very common health condition, affecting nearly three out of every four women at least once in their lifetime. Besides swelling, a yeast infection usually includes the following symptoms:

Yeast infections can often be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal medication. If you are having recurrent infections, talk to your doctor about the possibility of an underlying condition.    

Bartholin’s cyst

Although rare, a Bartholin’s cyst can sometimes cause a swollen vaginal opening (also called vaginal vestibule). Often accompanied by symptoms of redness, pain, and heat if it gets infected and forms an abscess, this is one condition you’ll want to bring to your doctor’s attention immediately.   

On both sides of your vaginal opening are Bartholin’s glands. Sometimes, the ducts along one of the glands can become blocked, and the resulting fluid buildup can cause a cyst to form. Bartholin’s cysts are soft and not typically painful. However, if the cyst grows too large, it can make the vulva painful while sitting, walking, or having sex.

On both sides of your vaginal opening are Bartholin’s glands. Sometimes, the ducts along one of the glands can become blocked, and the resulting fluid buildup can cause a cyst to form.

If you have a Bartholin’s cyst and also have swelling, tenderness, redness, or heat in the vulva, the cyst has likely become abscessed. You’ll want to see your doctor right away to have the cyst drained and treated with antibiotics.    

Allergic reaction

Allergic reactions, which can cause noninfectious vaginitis, can also be a common culprit for swelling in the vagina. Chemicals are often to blame.  

Are you using a new laundry detergent, douche, or soap? Any of these may be responsible for your swollen vaginal area. You may also have itching, burning, and redness. A number of other products can cause an allergic reaction, including:

  • Lubricants
  • Clothing (polyester underwear, for example)
  • Feminine washes 
  • Sex creams or gels
  • Condoms
  • Tampons and pads
  • Scented perfumes or soaps

Chemicals in certain products can cause an allergic reaction, either due to a general allergy or from direct contact. If you suspect a product is causing a reaction, stop using it and watch for several days to see if the swelling subsides. You can also use an over-the-counter antihistamine or glucocorticoid cream to reduce swelling. Your doctor may also prescribe a sitz bath or cream to use directly on the swollen and painful area.

Rough intercourse

While the vulva may normally swell after any sexual encounter, sex that is particularly rough may leave you feeling especially swollen and irritated. Trauma from sexual assault can also result in burning, pain, and swelling of the vaginal area.

Sexual arousal brings with it increased blood flow, which results in swelling of the entire vaginal area, including the clitoris. But sustained swelling or irritation is not part of sexual arousal or a post-coitus experience. A lack of lubrication in the area can cause the vulva to swell, and rough sex without lubrication can result in tiny tears in the vaginal opening, contributing to overall discomfort, irritation, and sometimes bleeding. 

While the vulva may normally swell after any sexual encounter, sex that is particularly rough may leave you feeling especially swollen and irritated.

You can usually treat this yourself with an over-the-counter pain reliever or a sitz bath. Consider keeping a non-irritating lubricant on hand for future sexual encounters, to keep vaginal tears, irritation, and swelling at bay.  

Trichomoniasis

Certain sexually transmitted infections, like trichomoniasis, can cause a swollen vagina, as well as other symptoms. This parasitic infection is very common, affecting more than three million people. Although most people with trichomoniasis never have any symptoms, some experience swelling, along with:

  • Pain during urination 
  • Vaginal burning, soreness, irritation, or redness
  • Strong-smelling discharge that is clear, white, gray, yellow, or greenish

If you’re having symptoms of trichomoniasis, be sure to see your doctor, who can treat the infection with antibiotics. 

Genital herpes

Affecting more than one out of every six people in the United States, genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection. It can also cause, among other symptoms, a swollen vagina.

Along with swelling, people with genital herpes will sometimes see tiny clusters of painful blisters that eventually burst, leaving behind open red sores that take a week or longer to heal. Not everyone who has herpes gets blisters, and many have no symptoms at all. Other symptoms of herpes include fever and body aches and pains.

Although there is no treatment that cures genital herpes, prescription antiviral medications can shorten the length and frequency of breakouts. They may also reduce the risk of spreading the infection to a partner.   

Pregnancy

A swollen vulva can be part of the overall swelling that happens during pregnancy, especially in the lower parts of the body. The growing uterus puts pressure on pelvic veins and lymphatic vessels, which results in poorer blood flow from the pelvic region and legs and causes the vagina to swell.

To help combat swelling from pregnancy, take frequent rests and elevate your lower body using pillows or cushions. Gently massaging the area may also help. You can also wear compression stockings or socks during the day to help with swelling in your legs and vaginal area.

When to see a doctor

While a visit to the doctor is not always necessary, a swollen vagina with additional symptoms would warrant a visit. 

It’s important to pinpoint the reason for your vaginal swelling. If you know what’s causing the swelling, such as an allergic reaction from a specific product, there’s no need to see your doctor. Similarly, if you are pregnant and experiencing a swollen vagina as part of overall pregnancy swelling, a doctor visit likely isn’t necessary. 

A swollen vagina can be a cause for concern, but keep in mind that in some circumstances, it’s your body’s way of telling you something is off balance.

If you have other symptoms, such as irritation, discharge, redness, or fever, it is important to talk with your doctor. These symptoms can be a sign of a more serious underlying illness, such as a sexually transmitted infection like genital herpes or trichomoniasis. Antibiotics, antifungals, or sitz baths may be needed, and a doctor can run the appropriate tests to determine any underlying condition.

A swollen vagina can be a cause for concern, but keep in mind that in some circumstances, it’s your body’s way of telling you something is off balance. You can avoid vaginal swelling by reducing exposure to products that can cause irritation. Practicing good hygiene, like wiping from front to back, is also key to preventing irritation and swelling. Simple common-sense precautions and an awareness of your sexual health can help you avoid vaginal swelling and its related symptoms. 

https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/swollen-vulva#see-your-doctor

https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/vaginal-swelling#genital-herpes

https://www.healthline.com/health/bartholins-gland-cyst

https://www.healthline.com/health/vulvovaginitis

https://www.healthline.com/health/sitz-bath#uses

https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm

https://www.healthline.com/health/std/genital-herpes

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