What Causes Swelling Of The Labia And How Is it Treated?

Topic Overview

Before coming to the causes of swelling of the labia, it is better to understand the anatomy of the female external genitalia. This comprises of the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, Bartholin gland, and clitoris. All these structures are contained in what is called as vulva. The primary function of these organs includes facilitating the entry of the sperm within the body of the female after sexual intercourse. These organs also protect the internal organs of the reproductive system from injury or damage due to bacteria and viruses. It also plays a role in the female experiencing sexual pleasure [1]. Among the four organs that are contained in the vulva, the labia majora is the most important. This is because it protects the other organs of the external female genitalia. The labia majora contains sweat and sebaceous glands which function by secreting lubricants that are useful in sexual activity. When a girl attains puberty, it is the labia majora where the pubic hairs develop. On the other hand, the labia minora is comparatively smaller to the labia majora. It is present inside the labia majora and lines the vaginal and urethral opening [1]. It also plays a part in sexual stimulation in that the blood vessels present in it gets filled with more blood when a female is sexually stimulated causing the labia minora to swell and become more sensitive to sexual stimulation. At times, certain infections or formation of cysts can cause the labia to swell leading to significant discomfort. Swelling of the labia when accompanied by the following symptoms almost always points towards an infectious condition [1]. These symptoms include the genital area as a whole feeling warmer than normal. Some females observe a lump or a bump around the vulva or the labia. There is also burning and itching sensation around the labia. This will be accompanied by pain and erythema. In some cases, there will be abnormal discharge from the vagina. Below mentioned are some of the causes that result in the swelling of the labia and different ways to manage the condition [1].

What Causes Swelling Of The Labia?

What Causes Swelling Of The Labia?

The primary causes of swelling of the labia include: Yeast Infections: In majority of the cases where a female experiences swelling of the labia, a yeast infection is the culprit. It constitutes to about 70% of cases of labial swelling. In addition to the swelling, there will also be itching around the genitalia along with swelling and abnormal vaginal discharge. The risk of a female developing yeast infection increases during pregnancy or if a female has a compromised immune system [2]. A diabetic female is also prone to develop yeast infections. Additionally, certain medications like antibiotics, prolonged use of steroids, and oral contraceptives also increase the risk of a female developing yeast infection [2]. Bacterial Vaginosis: This is also one of the common causes of swelling of the labia. This condition occurs in about 25% of females who are in the reproductive age. The primary cause of this condition is the domination of bad bacteria over good bacteria that are naturally present in the vagina. Aside from swelling of the labia, a female with bacterial vaginosis will also experience greenish discharge from the vagina with a foul odor even though in many cases bacterial vaginosis is completely asymptomatic [2]. There are also certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of a female experiencing bacterial vaginosis. These factors include being sexually active with multiple partners and douching [2]. Trichomoniasis: This is a sexually transmitted disease that occurs in about 3-5% of females of reproductive age. In most cases this infection does not cause any symptoms apart from swelling of the labia. However, in cases where symptoms are experienced they will include itching sensation and skin irritation around the vulvar region. The female will have severe pain with urination [2]. There will be a foul odor emanating from the vagina along with greenish discharge. Having unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners is the root cause of all sexually transmitted diseases including trichomoniasis [2]. Allergies: This is also a common cause of swelling of the labia. This occurs when the labial region comes into contact with certain chemicals or products that one is sensitive or allergic to. This may include certain fabric like synthetic undergarments, or chlorinated water when spending plenty of time in the pool at a water park. Additionally, certain perfumed, detergents, soaps, lotions, and moisturizers also can act as an allergen and cause swelling of the labia [2]. Bartholin’s Cyst: The Bartholin gland is located adjacent to the vaginal opening on either side of the vagina. When these glands become clogged or blocked then it may result in the swelling of the vaginal area including the labia. The swelling caused due to the blocked glands generally do not cause any other symptoms it definitely provides a breeding ground for many other infections to develop [2]. Studies estimate that the prevalence of Bartholin cyst is around 3% in females who are in the second decade of their lives; however, the risk of developing this condition decreases as the female ages [2]. Sexual Activity: At times, the process of sexual activity results in swelling of the labia. This happens when the penis penetrates the vagina without adequate lubrication or arousal. The dryness of the vagina causes excessive fraction which irritates the skin around the vagina causing swelling. There may also be accompanying pain and discomfort [2]. A female with swelling of the labia should consult with a physician in cases where the swelling does not improve and in fact worsens with intense pain and discomfort. A consultation with a physician should also be sought if the female observed a lump or a bump around the labia along with burning or itching around the area [2]. It is also recommended to go to a physician if the swelling of the labia is accompanied by abnormal vaginal discharge or foul odor from the vagina. The physician will identify a cause for the symptoms and formulate a treatment plan that will best suit the patient to treat the condition [2].

How is Swelling Of The Labia Treated?

Coming to the treatment options for swelling of the labia, it basically depends on the underlying cause. These options basically involve use of medications or a surgical intervention. Medications most preferred to treat swelling of the labia include steroid creams, especially in cases where the swelling is caused by allergies or as a result of sexual activity [2]. Antifungal creams or medications will be prescribed if yeast infection is believed to be the cause of swelling of the labia. This medication may also be purchased over-the-counter from a local pharmacy store. Antibiotics will be prescribed for cases where swelling of the labia is caused by a condition like bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted infection [2]. There is no treatment needed for incidences of Bartholin cyst as this condition resolves spontaneously. In severe cases however, the physician may prescribe medications to treat it and if ineffective surgical route will be taken to drain the area or remove the cyst [2]. There are also certain Home Remedies which can effectively take care of swelling of labia. These remedies include Cool Compresses: This is extremely effective in calming down the swelling and inflammation. The female can take a few ice cubes in a towel and place is around the vaginal area for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day. Alternatively, readymade cool compresses can be purchased from the local pharmacy which can be applied directly to the affected area [2]. Sitz Baths: This home remedy is especially beneficial for females with Bartholin cyst. Just sitting on a bathtub half filled with lukewarm water two to three times a day for about a week can help calm the swelling of the labia as a result of Bartholin cyst [2]. Probiotics: Studies have suggested that probiotics are quite effective in preventing vaginal infections that can cause swelling of the labia. Consuming natural yogurt is perhaps the best means of taking in probiotics and thus increased consumption of yogurt can be helpful in treating swelling of the labia [2]. Apple Cider Vinegar: This is also an effective home remedy to control swelling of the labia. It is best to drink a couple of spoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with a glass of water two to three times a day is extremely effective in treating swelling of the labia as a result yeast infections [2]. Garlic: This food item is a natural antifungal agent and is extremely effective for treating vaginal infections. There has been a study which mentions that a cream made from garlic and thyme was extremely effective in treating yeast infections even though more research is required to prove the efficacy of garlic as a potent antifungal agent [2]. Sugar Restriction: Consuming excessive sugar has been linked to increased incidences of yeast infections. This data is based on various studies conducted on this topic. Thus it is recommended that females who have swelling of the labia as a result of yeast infection limit their intake of sugar or sugary foods [2]. Avoiding Allergens: It is also quite important to avoid substances that a female may be sensitive to in order to prevent swelling of the labia. This includes creams, lotions, or spending extended period of time in a swimming pool. Any use of oral contraceptives should be done with the consultation of a physician to prevent any likelihood of swelling of the labia [2]. In conclusion, in majority of the cases swelling of the labia does not indicate a serious medical condition. However, if this occurs in conjunction with certain other symptoms like abnormal vaginal discharge, foul odor from the vagina, itching or burning sensation can indicate a presumed infection that will require treatment. In some cases a Bartholin cyst may also result in the development of swelling of the labia [1, 2]. Treatment for this condition depends on the underlying cause. This includes antifungal medications in cases where yeast infection is believed to be the cause of the swelling. Antibiotics will be required for cases where bacterial vaginosis is found to be the cause of swelling of the labia. Bartholin cyst in most cases resolves spontaneously but if the condition is severe then the physician may opt for a surgical drainage of the cyst or even removal of the cyst [1, 2]. There are also certain home remedies which are also quite effective for treatment of swelling of the labia. This includes cool compresses, sitz baths, and restriction of sugars which are also quite effective in treating swelling of the labia. It is recommended females practice good personal hygiene, controlled use of oral contraception, and avoid using any creams or lotions with artificial fragrances or chemicals in order to prevent swelling of the labia [1, 2].

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