What Causes a Swollen Labia?
The labia protect the vagina, urethra, and clitoris. They also become engorged or swollen during sexual arousal.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female,” “male,” or both to refer to the sex assigned at birth.
This article discusses the causes of swollen labia. It also covers diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
There are many reasons why you may experience swelling of the labia. They naturally swell when you are sexually aroused. However, there are underlying medical conditions that can cause uncomfortable swelling.
The most common yeast infection symptom is severe itching in the vaginal area.
Other symptoms of yeast infections include:
- burning and discoloration
- swelling of the vaginal area
- pain during sex
- pain when urinating
- thick, white vaginal discharge
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is possibly the most common vaginal condition in females between the ages 15–44. It is the result of too much of certain bacteria in your vagina. This changes the balance of bacteria in that area. BV can increase your risk of developing a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Many who develop BV do not have any symptoms. However, if you do experience symptoms, they may include:
- thin white or gray discharge
- pain, itching, or burning in your vagina
- a strong fish-like odor
- burning when urinating
- itching around the outside of the vagina
The itching around the outside of your vagina can sometimes cause swelling of the labia.
Trichomoniasis (trich) is a common and treatable STI. It results from an infection caused by a protozoan parasite called “Trichomonas vaginalis.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 70% of people with trich do not have any symptoms. Females with trich who do experience symptoms may notice:
- itching or burning of your genitals
- redness or discoloration
- discomfort when urinating
- thin discharge that is clear, white, yellowish, or greenish with a fishy odor
Symptoms of trich may cause discomfort during sexual activity. They may also range from mild irritation to severe inflammation of the vaginal area.
If the skin of your labia comes into contact with something it is allergic to, it can cause swelling in the area. When your labia becomes irritated by perfumes in detergents or soaps, latex, or certain fabrics, it is common that discoloration, itching, and swelling can occur.
If the cyst grows large, it can begin to be more noticeable. You may also feel pain or discomfort in the vulva or outer area of the vagina when you walk, sit, or have sex. Bartholin’s cysts can also affect the labia majora. The cyst may cause swelling of the labia, causing one side to appear larger than the other.
Sex without proper lubrication
The labia naturally swell when you become sexually aroused. However, sexual activity without proper lubrication can cause friction. This can lead to discomfort and inflammation of the vaginal area.
Contact your doctor if you notice the swelling in your labia is worsening or if you notice any of the following:
- a strong smell
- unusual discharge
- a lump or bump
Your doctor will most likely ask you about your symptoms and how long you have had them. They may also perform a physical exam. They may take a swab from your vagina or ask for a urine sample to check for infection.
Treatment for the swelling in your labia depends on the underlying cause.
Vaginal yeast infections are typically treatable with antifungal medications. These are available over the counter without a prescription. However, it is important to get checked by your doctor to ensure it is a yeast infection and not another type of infection.
The treatment for trich usually involves oral medication. Even with treatment, you can still develop trich again. For this reason, it is important that sexual partners are treated, so you do not pass the infection back and forth.
- Soak the cyst in warm water for 10–15 minutes, several times a day for 3–4 days.
- Hold a warm compress to the area.
- Take OTC pain medications.
It is important that you get to know your labia so you can recognize any changes that may occur. To take care of your labia and help prevent some of the issues that can cause swelling, such as:
- taking showers instead of baths
- using detergents that are perfume free or hypoallergenic
- avoiding using soap in the area
- patting the area dry without rubbing
- using lubrication when having sex
- wearing loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear
- using a condom properly or another barrier method when engaging in sexual activity, especially with multiple partners
There are many possible causes of swollen labia. It may be due to infection, STIs, or friction from sexual activity.
Treatment for the swelling may depend on the underlying cause. Contact your doctor if you notice swelling that worsens or involves pain, itching, or unusual discharge.
Properly caring for your labia and vaginal area can help prevent many of the causes of swelling.