If you’ve ever wondered if lumps, bumps, and the skin color of your vagina are normal, you’re not alone. Vaginal bumps and lumps are common, especially during your childbearing years or as you age. Keep reading to learn more about the causes for changes to your skin in this area and when you should see a doctor.
Vagina vs. vulva
The vagina is a muscular tube that leads to your cervix, which is the opening to your uterus. The top layer of tissue in your vagina is mucous membrane, similar to tissue in your mouth or nose. The bumps and ridges on the surface of your vagina are called rugae, which are like folds or pleats of extra tissue when your vagina is relaxed. During sex or childbirth, rugae enable your vagina to expand.
The vulva includes several organs:
- Labia majora are the larger lips of your vulva. The outer side of the labia majora is where your pubic hair is found. The hairless skin of the inner fold is smoother and contains oil glands called sebaceous glands.
- If you pull the labia majora apart, you’ll see your labia minora, the smaller lips of thin skin surrounding the opening to your vagina.
- Skene’s glands and Bartholin’s glands, which produce mucus and other lubricants, are found on the labia minora. The labia minora are also dotted with oil glands.
Causes of vaginal lumps and bumps
Bumps and lumps on your vagina and vulva can be normal, or they could be a sign of a condition that requires medical attention. Following are 10 possible causes for changes to the skin of your vulva and vagina.
1. Vulvar cysts
Your vulva has a number of glands, including oil glands, Bartholin’s glands, and Skene’s glands. A cyst can form if these glands become clogged. The size of cysts varies, but most feel like small, hard lumps. Cysts aren’t usually painful unless they become infected.
Cysts normally go away without treatment. If a cyst becomes infected, your doctor can drain it and may prescribe antibiotics if there are signs of infection.
2. Vaginal cysts
There are several types of vaginal cysts. Vaginal cysts are firm lumps on the wall of the vagina. They are normally about the size of a pea or smaller. Vaginal inclusion cysts are the most common type of vaginal cyst. They sometimes form after childbirth or injury to the vagina.
Vaginal cysts usually aren’t painful. They’re rarely a cause for concern unless they result in discomfort during sex. Occasionally, vaginal cysts need to be drained or removed surgically.
3. Fordyce spots
Fordyce spots, or sebaceous glands, are small white or yellow-white bumps inside your vulva. These spots are also found on the lips and cheeks. They normally first appear during puberty, and you tend to get more of them as you age. Fordyce spots are painless and not harmful.
Varicosities are swollen veins that can occur around your vulva. They happen in about 10 percent of pregnancies or with aging. They appear as bluish raised bumps or round swollen veins around the labia minora and majora. You may not experience pain, but sometimes they can feel heavy, cause itching, or bleed.
No treatment is usually needed for pregnant women, as varicosities usually recede about six weeks after the baby is born. They often reoccur with subsequent pregnancy.
It’s estimated that approximately 4 percent of all women will develop these. For nonpregnant women, they can be embarrassing or cause discomfort with intercourse or when standing for long periods. A doctor who is a specialist in vein surgery and treatment can treat this condition.
5. Ingrown hair
Shaving, waxing, or plucking pubic hairs increases your risk for an ingrown pubic hair. That can cause a small, round, sometimes painful or itchy bump to form. The bump may be filled with pus, and the skin around the bump may also become darker.
Don’t try to extract the ingrown hair on your own. That can lead to infection. In most cases, it will resolve without treatment. See a doctor if it becomes inflamed. That could be a sign of infection.
6. Vaginal skin tags
Skin tags are small, protruding flaps of extra skin. They don’t cause harm or discomfort unless they rub or catch on something and become irritated. If your skin tags are bothersome, you can have them removed by your doctor surgically or with a laser.
7. Lichen sclerosus
Lichen sclerosus is an uncommon skin condition that mainly affects women who have gone through menopause. It’s most often seen on the vulva and around the anus. Symptoms may include:
- itching, often severe
- thin, shiny skin that may tear easily
- white spots on the skin that over time can become patches of thin, wrinkled skin
- bleeding or bruising
- blisters, which may or may not be filled with blood
- pain when urinating or during sex
Lichen sclerosus is usually treated with corticosteroid cream or ointment. It can return after treatment. Women who have lichen sclerosus have a slightly increased risk for cancer of the vulva.
8. Genital herpes
Genital herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes is transmitted by vaginal, oral, or anal sex. An estimated one in five Americans has genital herpes. Often, the symptoms are so mild that those with herpes aren’t aware they have the condition.
The first outbreak of herpes can produce symptoms that are like flu, including:
- swollen glands
- large sores
- pain in the genitals, bottom, and legs
Later, symptoms of genital herpes include:
- tingling or itching
- multiple red bumps that turn into painful pimples or blisters
- small indentations, or ulcers
Herpes symptoms often clear up, only to return again. Over time, most people experience fewer and less severe outbreaks.
If you have visible sores, your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition by looking at them or by swabbing fluid from them and testing the fluid in a lab.
There’s no cure for genital herpes, but the severity and duration of symptoms can be controlled by antiviral medications.
You shouldn’t have sex if you have visible herpes sores. Using condoms during sex will significantly reduce your chances of getting herpes.
9. Genital warts
Many people have genital warts and don’t know it. If you have symptoms, they may include:
- clusters of small skin-colored bumps
- rough patches of closely spaced warts, sometimes described as resembling a cauliflower
- itching or burning
Genital warts can grow on your vulva or anus, or in your vagina. There is no way to cure genital warts, but they can be removed by your doctor or by using a prescription cream, laser, or surgery. You shouldn’t use over-the-counter wart removers.
Cancers of the vulva are rare, and cancers of the vagina are even more unusual. Symptoms of precancerous and cancerous conditions may include:
- flat or raised sores or bumps on your vulva
- skin color that is lighter or darker than surrounding skin
- thickened patches of skin
- itching, burning, or pain
- sores that don’t heal within a few weeks
- unusual bleeding or discharge
Cancer of the vulva is more common in older women and in women who smoke. You’re also at greater risk if you’re infected with the HPV virus.
Vulvar and vaginal cancers are diagnosed by taking tissue from suspicious lesions and examining it under a microscope.
When you should see a doctor
It’s a good idea to see a doctor if you’re unsure about changes to your body. You should also see your doctor if you have a new lump that doesn’t go away in a few weeks. As well, see your doctor if you have pain or signs of infection, such as:
- discharge from the lump that contains pus or blood
- symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease
Vaginal lumps often don’t require treatment. If they do need medical care, treatment is determined by their cause.
Most vaginal bumps and lumps can be managed at home. Here are some things you can do to help relieve your symptoms:
- If you have cysts, take warm baths several times a day for a few days. That may help the cysts drain.
- Avoid wearing clothing that rubs and chafes your vulva.
- Wear panties made of natural material like cotton. Natural materials are breathable and can help keep your genitals cool and dry.
It’s unlikely that lumps on your vagina are a cause for alarm. Most will go away on their own or can be treated or managed at home. If you have a sexually transmitted disease, it can usually be managed with treatment, but it’s important to begin treatment early to reduce your risk for complications.