What Causes a Swollen Labia?

Medically Reviewed By Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
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There are many possible causes for swelling of the labia. These include yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections, and cysts. The labia are the “lips” on the outside of the female genitals. There are two pairs of labia. The labia majora are the “lips” on the outside of the vagina. The labia minora are the folds of the skin that are on the inside and that lead to the vagina.

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. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

This article discusses the causes of swollen labia. It also covers diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

What causes swollen labia?

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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.

Yeast infection

Most people will develop a vaginal yeast infection. These infections are due to an overgrowth of the fungus Candida.

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
  • soreness
  • thick, white vaginal discharge

Read more about vaginal yeast infections.

Bacterial vaginosis

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.

Read more about bacterial vaginosis.

Trichomoniasis

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.

Read more about trichomoniasis.

Allergies

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.

Bartholin’s cyst

A Bartholin’s cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops just inside the opening of the vagina. You may feel a soft, painless lump. These types of cysts do not typically cause any issues.

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.

Read more about Bartholin’s cysts.

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.

How is swollen labia diagnosed?

Contact your doctor if you notice the swelling in your labia is worsening or if you notice any of the following:

  • pain
  • itching
  • 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.

How is swollen labia treated?

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.

BV is generally treated with antibiotics. It is important to take the entire dose of antibiotics your doctor gives you, even if you notice your symptoms clear.

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.

Unless Bartholin’s cyst worsens and becomes an abscess, doctors generally recommend the following:

  • 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.

Self-care and prevention

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

Summary

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.

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Medical Reviewer: Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Bacterial vaginosis – CDC basic fact sheet. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm
  2. Bartholin's cyst. (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bartholins-cyst/
  3. Labia problems. (2021). https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/labia-problems
  4. Trichomoniasis – CDC basic fact sheet. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/STDFact-Trichomoniasis.htm
  5. Vaginal yeast infections. (2021). https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/vaginal-yeast-infections