A swollen vulva is a common symptom of vaginitis, or an inflammation of the vagina. This often happens because of a bacterial, yeast, or viral infection or an imbalance in vaginal bacteria.
Vaginitis can also be caused by certain skin disorders or low levels of estrogen.
In addition to a swollen vulva, vaginitis can cause:
- changes in vaginal discharge
- pain during penetration, like when inserting a tampon or during sexual activity
- pain or burning during urination
- light bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
When your vulva (external genitalia) and vagina (internal genitalia) are both inflamed, it’s known as vulvovaginitis.
If your symptoms last for more than a couple of days, it’s important to consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional. They can help identify the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan suited to your needs.
Keep reading to learn more about what may be behind your symptoms.
An allergic reaction that causes your vulva to swell is known as noninfectious vaginitis.
This can result from chemicals in:
These and other products that come into contact with your vulva and vagina can cause irritation and inflammation.
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.
Applying an over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone cream to your external genitalia may also alleviate your symptoms.
You might also consider a sitz bath. Just be sure to avoid adding potential irritants, like bath bombs and other fragrant products, to the water.
A swollen vulva is common after any sexual encounter, solo or partnered.
A cold compress can help soothe any swelling or puffiness.
Although swelling is a natural aspect of arousal, you can help prevent serious inflammation by taking a few proactive measures.
Be sure to keep a lubricant on hand, and avoid products that could cause an allergic reaction.
In addition to swelling, symptoms typically include:
There are a number of OTC antifungal vaginal creams, ointments, and suppositories designed to clear up a yeast infection and alleviate discomfort in the meantime.
Although at-home treatment is effective for many people, some infections are best treated with the help of a healthcare professional.
Consider making an appointment if you:
- have never had a yeast infection before
- have severe symptoms impacting your ability to function
- have had multiple yeast infections in the past year
Depending on your symptoms, you may be prescribed a single- or multi-dose oral antifungal medication. Your clinician may also recommend maintenance therapy if you have recurring yeast infections.
For some people, BV resolves on its own or with at-home treatment.
Avoid using OTC products designed for yeast infections to treat a suspected bout of BV. BV is a bacterial, not fungal, infection. Antifungal medication could cause additional irritation, worsening your symptoms.
BV symptoms do mimic other forms of vaginitis, so it’s important to seek medical attention if your symptoms persist.
A healthcare professional can rule out any other conditions and prescribe medication to help any discomfort.
A swollen vulva is a common symptom of pregnancy.
A growing uterus can block blood flow in your pelvic region, causing your vulva and legs to swell. Swelling typically intensifies as the pregnancy progresses.
If you missed your last period and have reason to suspect pregnancy, consider taking a home pregnancy test.
Make an appointment with a healthcare professional if you receive a negative result but still have reason to suspect pregnancy or if you receive a positive result.
A clinician can confirm your results and advise you on any next steps, including your options for family planning. They can also rule out other underlying conditions.
In the meantime, applying a cold compress and soaking in a sitz bath can help reduce swelling.
Symptoms may develop if the cyst grows large. It might be difficult to sit down or walk without discomfort. Vaginal penetration may be especially painful.
If your vulva is swollen, red, tender, and hot, it could be a sign of infection.
An infected cyst can cause 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.
Treatment usually isn’t necessary unless you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms. In this case, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional.
After making a diagnosis, your clinician may recommend soaking in warm water several times a day for up to 4 days or holding a warm compress against the area to reduce any swelling.
If you have an abscess, you might be instructed to take a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection. Your clinician may also drain the cyst.
Genital Crohn’s disease is a skin condition caused by granulomas developed from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
This rare disease can cause persistent swelling of the vulva, in addition to cracks, erosions, and hollow cavities in the genital area.
As with other conditions, you can soothe swelling by applying a cold compress or soaking in a sitz bath.
But if your symptoms last for more than a few days or worsen, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional. They may prescribe a topical steroid or calcineurin inhibitor to help reduce swelling.
Your clinician may also recommend antiseptic cleansers for secondary infections or skin fissures.
You can treat — and even prevent — a swollen vulva by following these tips and tricks.
- Pay attention to how you wipe. Always wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom to prevent the spread of fecal bacteria to your vagina. Be thorough and wipe until there’s no longer residue on the tissue.
- Cleanse correctly. Your vagina is self-cleaning. Your vulva, however, can use a little help. Wet a washcloth with warm water and gently clean each fold of your external genitalia. You can use a mild, fragrance-free soap if you’d like. Rinse thoroughly and pat the area dry.
- Stay dry. Get out of wet or sweaty clothes as soon as possible, and dry the area well before pulling on a fresh pair of underwear or other bottoms.
- Wear cotton underwear. Cotton underwear allows your genital area to breathe and will prevent yeast from growing.
- Don’t douche. Douching can wipe out the “good” bacteria in your vagina. This allows the “bad bacteria” to overgrow and leads to vaginitis.
- Limit your exposure to irritants. So-called “feminine hygiene” products often contain chemicals known to irritate the vagina. Avoiding scented products — from your laundry detergent to pads and tampons — can make a huge difference.
What can you do to make vulvar swelling go down?
The exact remedy for a swollen vulva depends on the underlying cause. General swelling may be soothed with a cold compress or a sitz bath.
Swelling caused by an infection or other underlying condition may be treated with antibiotic, antiseptic, antibacterial, or antifungal medication.
What causes a swollen, raw vulva?
Injury, infection, and intense scratching can cause your vulva to become visibly inflamed.
Your vulva may also feel “raw” or warm to the touch, particularly if there are areas of broken skin or sores.
How long does a swollen vulva last?
Depending on the underlying cause, vulvar swelling may resolve within an hour or last for up to a week.
If you’re unsure of what triggered your symptoms or can’t find relief with at-home treatment, consult a healthcare professional.
What helps a swollen and itchy vulva?
Swelling and itchiness caused by an allergic reaction are often resolved with an OTC cortisone cream.
Identifying the source of irritation — like the material of your underwear, for example — and limiting future exposure is key to preventing further discomfort.
OTC treatments may also help with itchiness caused by an infection.
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing intense pain or discomfort.
If you aren’t experiencing symptoms other than swelling and you aren’t uncomfortable, you might try the “wait and see” method. Use at-home remedies and consult with a healthcare professional if swelling lasts more than a few days.
They can help identify the underlying cause and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist who reports on public health and social justice issues. Like any native New Yorker, she drinks too much coffee and has strong opinions about the Yankees.