The vagina and vulva — an overview
While the vaginal passage is only one part of the female genital area, most people say ‘vagina’ to include the following areas of the female genitalia:
- The vagina: the internal genital tract that ends at the cervix, then the cervix opens up into the uterus.
- The vulva: the vulva is your external genitalia and includes the following areas:
- Mons pubis — this is the triangular pad of fat that sits over the pubic bone.
- Labia majora — these are the outer, larger lips that cover the more sensitive parts of the external genitalia. The outer side of the labia majora is where pubic hair is found. The inner part is smooth and has sebaceous follicles.
- Labia minora — if you pull the labia majora apart, you will see the inner lips called the labia minora that surround the opening of the vagina.
- Skene’s glands, Bartholin's glands: these glands produce lubrication and are found in the labia minora.
While many kinds of genital bumps are normal and not a cause for concern, some cases may require medical attention. Let’s find out the various conditions that may cause bumps on genitals:
- Contact dermatitis: this is a rash caused by an allergic reaction or irritation. Common causes include harsh soaps, douches, scented sanitary pads, or condoms. Often, contact dermatitis clears up on its own after eliminating the triggering agent. If the rash persists, medical treatment may be necessary.
- Folliculitis: inflammation or infection of hair follicles can cause bumps on labia. This is called folliculitis and can occur from shaving, wearing tight clothes, ingrown hair, using hygiene products that block the follicles, or an infection that spreads to the follicles.
- Vulvular cysts: the vulva is dotted with glands. If these glands get clogged, they may form vulvular cysts. These cysts are hard, small bumps on vag lips that are usually painless unless infected. Vulvular cysts clear up by themselves in most cases.
- Vaginal cysts: vaginal cysts cause firm bumps in the vagina to form. They usually form after childbirth or a vaginal injury and aren’t painful or harmful in most cases. However, if they cause discomfort during sex, you may need to consult a doctor.
- Fordyce spots: these sebaceous glands are small white bumps on the labia majora's inner area. They usually appear after puberty and are painless and harmless.
- Skin tags: these are small protruding flaps or bumps of skin. They are harmless and don't usually cause discomfort unless irritated by rubbing. Skin tags can be removed by a doctor if desired.
- Lichen sclerosis: this is an inflammatory dermatosis that usually affects women going through menopause. It causes pain while urinating, thin shiny skin that can tear easily, blisters, and white bumps on vag lips that itch. It is advised to consult a doctor for treatment if you experience these symptoms.
- Genital herpes: genital herpes is a viral disease caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2. Symptoms include fever, genital pain and itchy bumps on outer vag lips, that turn into ulcers. These ulcers can clear up on their own, but there’s no known cure for herpes. However, it can be managed by antiviral medicines.
- Genital warts: genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is a very common sexually transmitted infection. Symptoms include small skin-colored bumps on the vulva, closely spaced warts, and itching. Visible warts often go away on their own, or they can be removed by a doctor. HPV has no known cure, but often the body clears the infection on its own. There’s also a vaccine to prevent infection.
- Vaginal varicosities: this condition is typically experienced by people who are pregnant when their veins become swollen and visible as bluish raised bumps on vaginal area. They are usually painless but may feel itchy and heavy. The veins usually go back to normal about six weeks after birth.
- Cancer of vulva and vagina: this is an extremely rare condition with symptoms that might include flat or raised bumps on the vaginal lips, skin that is lighter or darker than the surrounding area, thick patches of skin, itching, burning, sores that persist, and unusual bleeding or discharge. If you experience these symptoms, a doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis.
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It is not advised to pop vaginal bumps for a number of reasons. If the bumps are infected, popping them could spread bacteria to the surrounding area and worsen the infection. The vaginal area also has very sensitive skin, so any effort to pop the bump may cause further irritation. If the bumps don’t go away on their own or bother you, a doctor can determine the exact cause of the bumps and prescribe the right treatment.
These tips may help prevent genital bumps:
- Maintain good hygiene: wiping from front to back and regularly changing underwear, sanitary pads, and tampons can help minimize the presence of bacteria that can cause bumps.
- Wear natural fabrics and loose clothes: wearing breathable fabrics and loose fitting clothes promotes good air circulation around your genitals. This prevents the moist, damp conditions that bacteria flourish in and prevents oil glands from becoming blocked.
- Avoid harsh cleansing products: harsh soaps, douches, or scented feminine hygiene products can disrupt your vagina’s pH balance and cause infection or irritation. Mild, unscented soap and warm water is enough to clean the vulva.
- Practice safe sex: other than abstaining from sex, using condoms is the only way to prevent the transmission of genital herpes, and condoms can reduce the likelihood of contract.
- Eliminate irritants: sometimes removing the cause of vaginal irritation is enough to make bumps go away. Eliminating harsh soaps and switching to mild, unscented soaps, replacing nylon underwear with cotton, avoiding scented sanitary napkins, and switching to a mild detergent might be helpful.
- Medication: if the bumps persist and worsen over time, a doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics in the event of infection or topical creams for contact dermatitis.
In many cases, vaginal bumps resolve once the irritant causing them has been eliminated or on their own. However, if your bumps become painful, bleed, or start spreading, check with a doctor to pinpoint the cause and seek correct treatment. In some cases, bumps can become infected and need to be drained by a medical professional.
In most cases, small bumps in the vulva or vagina are not a cause for concern. They could be caused by blocked sebaceous glands, contact with irritating chemicals, and clear up on their own. However, in some cases, the bumps may be itchy, painful and persist for weeks. In such cases, consulting a doctor may be a good idea for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.