Overview of the vagina and vulva
While the vaginal passage is only one part of the female genitalia, most people use the term “vagina” to refer to the following areas:
- The vagina is the internal genital tract that ends at the cervix, which opens into the uterus.
- The vulva is the external genitalia that includes the following parts:
- Mons pubis – This is the triangular pad of fat that sits over the pubic bone.
- Labia majora – This is the outer lips that cover the more sensitive parts of the external genitalia. The outer side of the labia majora is covered by pubic hair. The inner part is smooth and has sebaceous glands.
- Labia minora – Under the labia majora, these inner lips surround the opening of the vagina.
- Skene’s glands and Bartholin's glands: These glands produce lubrication and are found in the labia minora.
Causes of genital bumps
While many kinds of genital bumps are normal, some cases may require medical attention. Let’s look at some conditions that may cause bumps on the 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 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 the labia. Folliculitis can occur from shaving, wearing tight clothes, ingrown hair, using hygiene products that block the follicles, or an infection.
- Vulvar cysts: The vulva is dotted with glands. If these glands get clogged, they may form cysts. These cysts are hard, small bumps on the vag lips that are usually painless unless they become infected. Vulvar cysts clear up by themselves in most cases.
- Vaginal cysts: Vaginal cysts consist of firm bumps in the vagina. 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 health care provider.
- 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 small protruding flaps or bumps of skin rarely cause discomfort unless they’re irritated by rubbing. Skin tags can be removed by a doctor if desired.
- Lichen sclerosus: This inflammatory skin condition usually affects people who are going through menopause. It causes pain while urinating, thin shiny skin that can tear easily, blisters, and white bumps on the vag lips that itch. Consider consulting a health care provider for treatment if you experience these symptoms.
- Genital herpes: Genital herpes is a viral disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. Symptoms include fevers, genital pain, and itchy bumps on the outer vag lips that turn into blisters and sores. Although there’s no known cure for herpes, it can be managed by antiviral medicines.
- Genital warts: Genital warts result from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a 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 health care provider. 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 during pregnancy. It creates swollen veins that look like blue, raised bumps on the vaginal area. They are usually painless, but they may feel itchy and uncomfortable. The veins usually return to normal about six weeks after giving birth.
- Cancer of the vulva and vagina: This is an extremely rare condition. Symptoms can include flat or raised bumps on the vaginal lips, a patch of light or dark skin, thickened skin, itching, burning, sores that don’t fade, and unusual bleeding or discharge. If you experience these symptoms, visit a health care provider.
Is it safe to pop bumps on the vagina?
Popping vaginal bumps is not advised for a few reasons. If the bumps are infected, popping them could spread bacteria to the surrounding area and worsen your symptoms. The vaginal area also has highly sensitive skin, so trying to pop the bump may cause further irritation. If the bumps don’t fade on their own or cause discomfort, a health care provider can determine the exact cause and prescribe the right treatment.
Tips for preventing genital bumps
These tips may help you avoid genital bumps:
- Maintain good hygiene: Wiping from front to back and regularly changing your underwear, sanitary pads, and tampons can help minimize the presence of bacteria that can lead to bumps.
- Wear natural fabrics and loose clothes: Breathable fabrics and loose-fitting clothes promote air circulation around your genitals. This prevents the moist, damp conditions that boost bacterial growth and minimizes any blockage of oil glands.
- Avoid harsh cleansing products: Harsh soaps, douches, or scented feminine hygiene products can disrupt your vagina’s pH balance and cause an infection or irritation. Mild, unscented soap and warm water are the best way 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.
How to treat bumps on labia
- Eliminate irritants: Sometimes, removing the cause of vaginal irritation is enough to make bumps fade. Eliminating harsh soaps and switching to mild, unscented products, replacing nylon underwear with cotton, avoiding scented sanitary napkins, and switching to a mild detergent can help.
- Medication: If the bumps persist or worsen over time, a health care provider can give you guidance. They may recommend antibiotics to treat any infection or topical creams for contact irritation.
When to see a health care provider
In many cases, vaginal bumps resolve on their own or after the irritant has been eliminated. However, if the bumps become painful, bleed, or start spreading, check with a health care provider. In some cases, bumps can become infected and need to be drained by a medical professional.
In general, small bumps on the vulva or vagina are not a cause for concern. They could have resulted from blocked sebaceous glands or contact with irritating chemicals, and most cases clear on their own. However, sometimes the bumps become itchy, painful, and persist for weeks. In such cases, consulting a health care provider for treatment can help you feel better more quickly.