A swollen vagina can happen due to non-concerning occurrences, like at the end of pregnancy or after sex. It can also be a result of genital irritation from using synthetic fabric underwear, vaginal creams, the presence of a cyst (e.g. inflammation of a Bartholin gland), or from a sexually-transmitted disease like genital herpes.
It is common for vaginal swelling to be accompanied by other symptoms like itching. burning, redness, or yellow or green discharge, In these cases, you should see your doctor to investigate the cause of these symptoms and start treatment as indicated.
The main causes of a swollen vagina are:
1. Skin irritation
Just like in other parts of the body, the vaginal mucosa is made up of defense cells that react to substances that are foreign. If an irritating product is applied to the vagina, it can trigger irritation and cause symptoms like swelling, itching and redness. Some products like soaps, vaginal creams, synthetic clothing and lubricants can cause vaginal irritation and lead to a reaction.
What to do: If using a new vaginal product or fabric, ensure to monitor for symptoms of a reaction. If one emerges, discontinue use immediately. You can apply a cold water compress and take an antihistamine if necessary.
If symptoms of swelling, pain and redness do not resolve within 2 days, you should see your doctor for possible treatment with oral or topical corticosteroids and to investigate the cause of the allergy.
2. Vigorous sex
After sex, the vagina can remain swollen due to an allergy to the condom or an allergy to the partner’s semen. Swelling can also happen with inadequate lubrication and increased friction on contact. Vaginal swelling may also be noted after many sexual encounters in the same day, and tends to disappear spontaneously.
What to do: If you note dryness or irritation during sexual relations, you should use odor-free water-based lubricants without any chemicals. Lubricated condoms are also available to reduce friction during sex.
In addition to swelling, if you notice symptoms like pain, burning, or vaginal discharge, you should see your doctor to rule out other illnesses.
It is normal to have a swollen vagina at the end of pregnancy due to the baby’s weight exerting pressure within the pelvic region, as well as a generally reduction in blood flow in the area. In most cases, in addition to swelling, the vagina may also have a more blue-like color. Read more about causes of vaginal pain during pregnancy.
What to do: To relieve vaginal swelling during pregnancy, you can apply a cold compress to the vagina or cleanse the area with cool water. It is also important to rest and lie down, as this can reduce pressure on the vagina. Swellling usually goes away after birth.
4. Bartholin cysts
A swollen vagina can be a symptoms of a cyst on the Bartholin gland, which is a gland that lubricates the vaginal canal during sex. If the gland becomes obstructed, then a small, benign tumour develops and can be felt on palpation.
In addition to swelling, this cyst can cause pain that worsens with sitting or walking, and can fill up with pus to form an abscess.
What to do: If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor for a pelvic exam. Treatment for Bartholin cysts generally consists of medication to relieve pain, antibiotics if pus is present, or surgical removal of the cyst,
Vulvovaginitis is a vaginal infection that can be caused by fungus, bacteria, virus or other protozoans. It causes symptoms like swelling, itching and irritation in the vagina, as well as a foul-smelling discharge that can be yellow or green in color.
In most cases, vulvovaginitis can be transmitted through sex without causing any symptoms, which is why women who have an active sex life should see their doctor for screening every few months. The main infections that causes vulvovaginitis are trichomoniasis and chlamydia.
What to do: If you notice the above symptoms, you should book an appointment with your doctor to evaluate your clinical history, complete a pelvic exam, and in some cases, undergo bloodwork. The doctor may recommend specific antibiotics depending on the type of infection. It is important to maintain adequate hygiene of the genital area while treating.
Get an understanding of other STIs that can cause a swollen vagina.
6. Yeast infection
Yeast infections are common in women and are often caused by an overgrowth of fungus called Candida albicans that is naturally found in the vagina. This infection can lead to symptoms like intense itching, burning, redness, skin cracking, white plaques and a swollen vagina.
Some situations can increase your risk for developing a yeast infection, like using synthetic, tight or wet clothes, eating excessive sugar or dairy products, and neglecting genital hygiene. Women with a history of diabetes, chronic antibiotic use or low immunity are also at higher risk for developing a yeast infection. Learn more about the symptoms and causes associated with yeast infections.
What to do: You should consult your doctor if you notice these symptoms, as the doctor can confirm the infection through testing and start treatment as approrpriate. Treatment may consist of optical ointments and/or oral medication. Read more about what is commonly used for yeast infection treatment.
During treatment, use of synthetic-based fabrics and intense laundry detergents are also not recommended. See the different home remedies for yeast infections available for you to use as a complement to your medical treatment.
7. Genital herpes
Genital herpes is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It produces symptoms like burning, itching, and the appearance of small blisters on the vulva that can burst can cause wounds. In addition, this infection can also cause local inflammation, pain and burning with bowel movements, especially if the blisters are close to the anus. Learn more about other symptoms associated with genital herpes.
What to do: Treatment of genital herpes should be monitored by a gynecologist, who may indicate antiviral medication, like acyclovir or valacyclovir in pill or topical form.
8. Vulvar Crohn's disease
Genital Crohn’s disease is an illness that is characterized by excessive inflammation of the genital organs, which can lead to swelling, redness and skin cracks within the vagina. This condition emerges when Crohn’s disease cells spread and migrate to the vagina.
What to do: People with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis should be followed by a gastroenterologist to ensure treatment is effect and to prevent worsening of this disease. However, if Crohn’s has not been confirmed, and symptoms emerge suddenly or worsen over a few days, you should see your doctor for specific testing.