Health

10 Possible Causes of a Swollen Vagina or Vulva—and How to Find Relief

If you’re currently dealing with a swollen vagina or vulva, it’s understandable to have questions—like, a lot of them. One biggie: How long does it usually take for that swelling to calm down?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. “It really depends on what’s causing it,” Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, tells SELF. “It could be a day or a couple of weeks.” (For your sake, we’ll hope it’s the former.)

Unfortunately, the answer might not always be obvious, as there are several issues that can cause a swollen vagina or vulva (including your labia and clitoris). Here’s a breakdown of what might be triggering the puffiness, plus when you need to see a doctor already.

Let’s talk about vaginitis, the most likely reason you could have a swollen vagina or vulva.

If you have swollen labia and it’s not going away, you probably want to check in with your doctor. While you wait to be seen, here’s what you should know: It’s not uncommon to deal with vaginal and vulvar inflammation in general for a whole bevy of reasons. This is known broadly as vaginitis, an umbrella term for various causes of inflammation or infection of the vagina and/or vulva, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

First, there’s noninfectious vaginitis, which is caused by dermatitis, the medical term for skin inflammation, per the Mayo Clinic.

Dermatitis—specifically contact dermatitis—typically happens around your vulva or vaginal area when something irritates your skin or causes an allergic reaction.1 The specific irritant in question can vary based on your skin’s sensitivities. When it comes to the vulva and vagina, however, some of the main culprits include soaps, douches, and bubble bath products, Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, tells SELF. In addition to the swelling, you might notice itching, stinging or burning, or blisters.

Here’s some general advice: It’s best to keep anything with fragrance away from your vulva and vagina, period. Yes, even soap, because it might bother the truly delicate skin of your genitals. You actually don’t need to clean your vulva with anything but water, but if you truly feel compelled, use the gentlest soap you can find and try to make sure none gets inside of you, where it can cause more irritation.

That said, we’ll walk through some of the most common reasons your vagina and/or vulva might be swollen and irritated, including products you might not even be aware are a problem.

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1. Scented tampons or pads

Scented tampons and pads have mostly fallen out of favor over concerns that they introduce unnecessary fragrances to your vaginal area. But there are still plenty floating around out there disguised under the promise of being “odor blocking.”

But Dr. Greves says you shouldn’t fall for this misleading (and stigmatizing) marketing. “You can swell up easily from a scented tampon or pad,” she notes.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you might experience irritant or contact dermatitis due to the fragrance in these products, which can lead to a rash, excessively dry skin that peels or cracks, tender skin, burning or stinging, hives, or even blisters in addition to swelling.

What to know about treatment: This really depends on how bad your swelling is. For starters, Dr. Greves recommends that you stop using scented tampons and pads ASAP and see where that gets you. “Sometimes the swelling will go away quickly,” Lauren Streicher, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF.

When to see a doctor: If you’ve stopped using scented tampons or pads and your swelling is sticking around for more than a day, Dr. Greves says it’s time to see a doctor, who may prescribe a steroid cream to help resolve the situation. Ditto if you feel like your symptoms are getting worse.

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2. Scented laundry detergent

Laundry detergent seems innocent enough, but it can definitely wreak havoc on the delicate skin of your vulva, including your labia and clitoris. It’s a similar situation to using a scented pad or harsh soap, some laundry detergents contain fragrances that can irritate your vulva, causing contact dermatitis, Dr. Streicher says.

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