The labia are sometimes called the vaginal lips. There are two pairs of labia — the labia majora, located on the outside of the vagina, and labia minora, which are the inner folds of skin that lead to the vagina.
Read on to learn more about swollen labia and what can be done to prevent or treat this issue.
Symptoms of infected labia may include a burning sensation, pain, itching, and redness.
In addition to the swollen labia, the following symptoms may suggest an infection or another underlying medical problem:
- a feeling of hotness around the genital area
- bump on the labia
- strong or foul odor from the vagina
- unusual vaginal discharge
Causes of swollen labia
Common causes of swollen labia include:
The majority of women — almost 75 percent — will experience a yeast infection at least once in their lives.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- white discharge that may be thick and lumpy
Conditions that increase the risk of a yeast infection include pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, and having a weakened immune system.
Symptoms include swollen labia, a green or gray discharge, and a fish-like odor. However, many women with a bacterial imbalance may not experience any symptoms.
Factors that increase the risk of BV include:
- having a new sexual partner
- having multiple sexual partners
Those who do may experience:
- irritation and itching of the vulva
- painful urination
- swollen labia
- vaginal odor
- yellow-green discharge
Having a history of STIs or multiple sexual partners increases the risk of getting trichomoniasis.
Allergies or irritation
If no infection is present, swollen labia may have been caused by contact with an irritating product or allergen.
Substances that may trigger swelling include:
- chemicals in fabrics
- fragrances in detergents and soaps
- latex in condoms
Bartholin's glands are located on either side of the vaginal opening. These glands can become blocked and cause swelling in and around the vagina.
While this swelling does not usually cause other symptoms, it may lead to an infection and cause pain and a buildup of pus.
Sexual intercourse without adequate lubrication — either from the vagina itself or a lubricating product — can cause friction.
This friction can damage the vaginal area and labia, leading to swelling and discomfort.
The cause of swollen labia may be diagnosed in a variety of ways.
One or more of the following may be used to diagnose the cause of swollen labia:
- medical and sexual history
- complete list of symptoms
- physical examination
- vaginal or vulvar swab
- tissue sample
- urine analysis
Further tests may be used depending on the individual's symptoms and initial test results.
When to see a doctor
Women with swollen labia should see a doctor if the swelling worsens over time or is accompanied by any of the following:
- a lump or bump on the labia
- pain that persists or is severe
- a strong smell from the vagina
- unusual vaginal discharge
Treatment and management
The treatment for swollen labia will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment options include:
Medication and surgical intervention
Steroid creams may be beneficial for those with swelling caused by allergies or sexual intercourse.
Women with a yeast infection may need to take an over-the-counter or prescription antifungal medication, which may be applied topically or taken orally.
Swollen labia caused by bacterial infections such as bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics.
Bartholin's cysts do not always require treatment. However, some will require antibiotics, surgical drainage, or even surgical removal.
Apple cider vinegar is a popular home remedy for yeast infections.
Home remedies for swollen labia include:
- Cool compresses: Applying a cool compress to the labia can reduce swelling. This can be repeated several times a day. Cool compresses are available to purchase online.
- Sitz baths: Bartholin's cysts may be treated at home with sitz baths. This involves sitting in a bathtub filled with a few inches of warm water. Taking a sitz bath several times a day for up to 4 days can encourage a small cyst to drain.
- Probiotics: Some research suggests that probiotic supplements may treat or prevent vaginal infections. Regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods, such as natural yogurt and kefir, may also be beneficial.
- Apple cider vinegar: Drinking 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water up to three times daily is a popular home remedy for yeast infections. Apple cider vinegar is available to buy in supermarkets, health stores, and online.
- Garlic: A natural antifungal, garlic is often touted as a remedy for vaginal infections. Although more research is needed to determine if it is effective, one study did find that a vaginal cream made with garlic and thyme was as effective for yeast infections as an antifungal medication.
- Reducing sugar intake: High-sugar diets are thought to play a role in some recurrent yeast infections. Therefore, it may be helpful to avoid sugar, processed foods, and fruit juices when experiencing a yeast infection.
- Removing allergens and irritants: Swollen labia caused by particular substances may subside once the allergen or irritant is removed. These products can include soaps, detergents, clothing, and contraceptives.
There are several steps a person can take to prevent swollen labia, including:
- practicing good hygiene
- using pads instead of tampons
- not douching
- wearing loose clothing
- wearing cotton underwear
- wiping from front to back
- avoiding perfumed products
- only using antibiotics when necessary
- taking probiotics
- using barrier contraception
- using lubrication during sexual activity
For most women, swollen labia do not indicate a serious condition. However, anyone experiencing swelling that persists or is accompanied by other symptoms should see a doctor.
There are many medical treatments for swollen labia, depending on the underlying cause. Several home remedies can also effectively manage or alleviate symptoms.
To prevent swollen labia and other genital problems, practice good hygiene, use contraception, and avoid irritating products and clothing.