A swollen vagina or vulva isn’t always something to worry about. It can be a totally natural part of sexual arousal, for example. And you might get some soreness and swelling when you’re having your period, too.
But, at other times, a swollen vaginal area could be a sign of a problem that needs extra attention—skin irritation, an infection, or another medical condition.
So, if you’re wondering, Why is my vagina swollen?—or, more accurately, why is my vulva swollen—you’ve come to the right place.
Here, we look at the common causes of vaginal swelling and what you can do about them.
In this article: 📝
- Swollen vagina or vulva?
- What causes the vulva to swell?
- 10 possible causes of a swollen vagina (plus treatments)
Swollen vagina or vulva?
First, a quick word about vagina-related vocab.
Many of us use “vagina” to refer to our general genital area.
Technically, though, “vagina” refers to the canal that joins the vulva to the cervix, while “vulva” means the outside part (which includes your labia or vaginal lips).
And sure, it would be simpler to use the term “swollen vagina” to talk about any swelling you might experience in and around your vaginal area—including a swollen vulva or swollen labia—but this would not be correct.
We pride ourselves on not spreading misinformation—especially when it comes to the female body—so to be medically accurate, we will be referring to it as “swollen vulva”.
What causes the vulva to swell?
What does it mean when your vulva is swollen?
Actually, a little swelling around your vulva isn’t necessarily a problem.
When you’re sexually aroused, it’s normal to experience swollen vulval lips because of increased blood flow to that area.
And you might also have a swollen vulva during your period when your body retains more fluids.
With these causes, the swelling should ease off naturally as you stop being aroused or when your period ends.
But, sometimes, a swollen vagina can be caused by a health issue, such as an infection.
When that happens, you might also have other symptoms, including soreness, itching, or unusual discharge.
More on that below.
10 possible causes of a swollen vagina (plus treatments)
Let’s go through 10 possible causes of vaginal swelling and how they’re treated.
1. Irritation or allergy
Any products that you use in your vulval area have the potential to irritate the sensitive skin there and cause swelling—from bubble baths to laundry detergent and from condoms to tampons (especially if they’re perfumed).
It’s also possible to develop an allergy to a certain product.
If you’re after period products that aren’t likely to cause any irritation or allergic reaction, try Daye—their products are absorbant sustainable, and lab-tested to prevent vaginal fiber shedding, which can help to ditch the itch.
Other symptoms? Itching or burning around your vagina.
Treatment: Try to figure out the guilty product and stop using it. If your swelling dies down, there’s a good chance you’ve found the culprit. But talk to your doctor if the swelling doesn’t seem to be going away.
2. Bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection that can happen when the “bad” bacteria in your vagina outnumber the “good” bacteria.
Other symptoms? Itching, burning discharge that has a “fishy” odor.
Treatment: You might not need any treatment if the bacteria in your vagina get their balance back naturally. Home remedies that could help include: eating yogurt, taking probiotics, and wearing breathable cotton underwear.
If your symptoms haven’t gone away after a week, see your doctor. They might prescribe an antibacterial medication.
3. Yeast infection
Can a yeast infection cause swelling? Yes, it can!
This kind of infection happens when the fungal species Candida gets too big for its boots and wants to take over your vagina flora.
Other symptoms? Discomfort, burning, and redness around your vulva, pain when you pee, pain when you have sex, discharge that looks like cottage cheese.
Treatment: If you’ve had a yeast infection before, you might be able to sort it out with an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment from the pharmacy. If it’s your first one, best to get a diagnosis from your doctor. It’s easy to confuse a yeast infection with another kind of infection, and you want to make sure you get the right treatment.
A bacterial infection that affects the inner layers of your skin.
Often, it happens when bacteria enter a cut—for example if you’ve cut yourself while shaving.
Other symptoms? Redness, tenderness.
Treatment: Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. (Washing a cut frequently can help prevent infection in the first place.)
This is the medical term for an inflamed cervix (the entrance to your uterus).
Other symptoms? Some women with cervicitis have no symptoms at all, but along with a swollen vulva, you might experience: spotting between periods, pain during sex, pelvic pain, and unusual discharge.
Treatment: This will depend on what’s causing the cervicitis. If it’s an infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic or antiviral medication.
6. Genital herpes
A very common STI that’s caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Other symptoms? Some people get clumps of small, painful blisters in the vaginal area. These tend to burst and become sores that take at least a week to heal. Other symptoms include fever and achiness in your body.
Treatment: There isn’t a cure for genital herpes yet, but you can take an antiviral medication to shorten and prevent virus outbreaks. Taking daily anti-herpes medication can also reduce the risk of passing it on to sexual partners.
7. Gartner’s duct cysts
These are small cysts in your vagina that follow the course of the Gartner’s duct, which is basically something that’s leftover from when your sexual organs were developing as a fetus.
The cysts don’t normally cause a problem unless they grow and become infected.
Other symptoms? If the cysts get infected, you might experience vulva swelling, pain, and discomfort.
Treatment: You can have surgery to remove the infected cyst(s), and afterward your symptoms should stop.
8. Bartholin’s cysts
Your Bartholin’s glands sit at each side of your vaginal opening and do a great job of making mucus to lubricate your vagina.
But if cysts form on one of the glands, they can fill with pus and become abscesses (painful swellings).
Other symptoms? Burning, discomfort, and bleeding.
Treatment: A small cyst may disappear after a while without treatment. You might be able to ease the discomfort with OTC pain relief or a sitz bath. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, or you could have surgical treatment to drain or remove a cyst.
9. Penetrative sex
While a swollen vulva can be a normal part of sexual arousal, sometimes penetrative sex can lead to irritation or soreness.
That’s particularly the case with rough or long-lasting sex.
Treatment: This type of swelling usually goes away a few hours after sex. You can help prevent it by using a lubricant during penetration. And, of course, you have every right to tell your partner to take it easy if sex becomes painful and you’re not enjoying it.
If you’re in pain because you’ve experienced a sexual assault, it’s important to get help from a trained healthcare professional. In the US, you can contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 24/7.
It’s common to develop a swollen vulva during pregnancy.
As your baby grows, they put more pressure on your pelvis and the blood vessels and muscles in that area.
Blood and other fluids can collect there, causing swelling and discomfort.
Treatment: Resting and lying down can help ease the pressure, but talk to your doctor if you’re in severe discomfort. The reassuring news is once your baby is born, the swelling should fade away.
If you have any concerns about vaginal or vulval swelling, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. They’ve heard it all before!