What Causes Sore and Swollen Vagina? How to Help

Having a swollen vagina is more common than thought and a majority of women experience it during different periods of their lifetime. Your period or sexual intercourse can cause the vaginal area and labia to swell or become sore. Pregnancy can also cause the condition. Most of the time, it is nothing to be concerned with. However, on occasion, a medical condition, disorder or disease can cause the swelling and discomfort. If you are experiencing a sore swollen vagina, it is best to know what might be causing it and what you can do to make it better.

Causes of Sore Swollen Vagina and How to Help

1. Sensitivity or Indirect Irritant

Products used for other things or in other areas of the body that come into indirect contact with the vaginal area and cause a sore swollen vagina. This may include bath products, soap, perfumed toilet paper and laundry detergent.

How to help: If you think a product is causing vaginal irritation and itching, stop using it right away. If your symptoms go away, then avoid using it again in the future. If the irritation does not resolve, then you should see your physician. You may need topical treatment such as a steroid cream to relieve the swelling and discomfort.

2. Direct Irritant or Feminine Hygiene Products

Products that are designed to be used in the vaginal area or in your vagina can cause swelling and itchiness. Items can include condoms, douches, tampons, lubricants and creams.

How to help: Stop using the item you think is the source of your sore swollen vagina. If the irritation goes away, then refrain from using the item in the future. If the symptoms remain, see your physician for treatment. However, if you think the source of the discomfort is from a prescribed drug, consult your doctor before discontinuing use of the medication.

3. Sexual Intercourse or Vaginal Trauma

It is common for the vagina and surrounding area to become sore and swollen after sexual intercourse. It can also be caused by vaginal trauma that occurs from sexual assault, rough consensual intercourse or insufficient lubrication during consensual sex.

How to help: Most of the time, the irritation will go away with time. If you are experiencing pain, you can use over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen. If you think you are suffering from torn skin in or around your vagina, look out for fever or vaginal discharge. These could be symptoms of an infection. Seek medical attention if you are not sure or the discomfort does not go away.

If you were sexually assaulted, you should get professional medical assistance right away. If you are scared or ashamed to seek help in person, call the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to make a confidential and anonymous call. The line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

4. Bacterial Vaginosis Infection

The most common vaginal infection is bacterial vaginosis. The condition occurs when there is an imbalance of the normal bacterial in your vagina. If the good bacteria are outnumbered by bad bacteria, you can experience a sore swollen vagina that is accompanied with burning, discharge, itching and an offensive fishy odor. While occurring more often in sexually active individuals, you do not have to have sexual intercourse for the infection to develop.

How to help: You may want to consider taking a probiotic to clear up the infection. Sometimes, the condition can resolve on its own. However, if the infection persists, you will need to seek medical attention. Chances are you will be prescribed an oral or intravaginal antibacterial medication.

5. Yeast Infection

Seventy-five percent of women will have one or more yeast infections during their lives. It is triggered when the amount of Candida fungal exceeds normal levels in the vagina. Symptoms typically include soreness, irritation, redness, inflammation, painful intercourse, clumpy discharge (often described as resembling cottage cheese) and burning sensation when urinating.

How to help: There are over-the-counter topical treatments for yeast infections. You can also get a prescribed oral or intravaginal medication from your doctor. However, if you have never had a yeast infection, you should see your physician before trying to treat it yourself. The same symptoms can be caused by other illnesses and diseases. Left untreated, these illnesses can cause significant damage.

6. Inflamed Cervix

Referred to as cervicitis, an inflamed cervix is often caused by a STD (sexually transmitted disease). Types of STD’s include genital herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, you can experience cervicitis without having any type of infection. The most common signs of the condition include a sore swollen vagina, yellow vaginal discharge, bloody discharge, pelvic pain and discomfort, and spotting between menstrual periods.

How to help: The best thing to do is to seek the advice of your doctor. Since cervicitis can be caused by many things, not just infections, it is important for your physician to look for an underlying condition. Be prepared for a vaginal exam that includes a swab of the cervix to be examined for infection. Whether an infection is found or not, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral and antibiotic medication to relieve the inflammation of your cervix.

7. Genital Herpes

A common STD, genital herpes is a condition resulting from the herpes simplex virus. One out of six people in the U.S. are infected with the virus. Often, infected individuals will develop small clusters of blisters in the vaginal area. They are painful to endure and after they break open, they ooze a clear liquid and turn into sores that take a week or more to heal. Other symptoms of genital herpes include a sore swollen vagina, fever and body aches. Keep in mind, some people will not show any symptoms of infection. However, they can still pass it to someone else through sexual intercourse.

How to help: There is no cure for genital herpes. However, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication to help lessen the number of outbreaks. A daily anti-herpes medication can reduce the chances of spreading the infection as well.

8. Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes a lot of changes in the body of a woman. As your baby grows in your womb, there is added pressure to the pelvic area. If blood and fluids get trapped in the area, this can cause soreness, inflammation, pain and swelling of the vagina.

How to help: Resting and lying down can help by relieving the pressure. Try to do so as frequently as you can while pregnant if you are experiencing discomfort. If there are other symptoms present, you should seek the advice of your doctor. Once you have your baby, the condition should go away.

9. Cysts or Abscesses

There are two primary cysts or abscesses that affect the vagina area.

Gartner’s Duct

The first is Gartner’s duct. It occurs when a vaginal duct forms in a fetus and a remnant of it remains. This remnant usually disappears after childbirth, but if it becomes logged on the vaginal wall, a cyst can occur. This is not necessary a problem unless it becomes infected and turns into an abscess. It is usually seen or felt outside of the vagina as a bump or mass.

How to help: If the cyst does not cause discomfort, it can be left alone. However, if necessary, surgery is the only treatment to completely eliminate a Gartner’s duct cyst or abscess. Symptoms should cease once removed.

Bartholin’s Glands

The other type of cyst or abscess is in the Bartholin’s glands. These glands are found on the sides of the vagina opening. The purpose of the glands is to produce mucus to lubricate the vagina and surrounding area. If they become irritated or infected, they can become full of puss and form an abscess. Other symptoms of a cyst or abscess include discomfort, pain, bleeding and a sore swollen vagina.

How to help: Often Bartholin’s cysts or abscesses resolve on their own. To lessen discomfort and relieve pain, you can take a sitz bath a few times a day for about 7 days. If the condition does not get better, see your doctor as you may need an antibiotic or, in serious cases, even surgery to drain or remove the problematic gland.

Know When to Seek Help

Most of the time, a sore swollen vagina will resolve on its own and medical treatment is not necessary. However, if other symptoms occur, you should seek the advice of your doctor.

Signs to look for:

  • Accompanying symptoms, especially chills or fever
  • Symptoms lasting over a week
  • Extreme pain

Be prepared for your physician to do a pelvic exam, and possibly blood tests, vaginal fluid swaps and vaginal tissue samples. These tests will be used to look for infection and STDs. Whenever you suffer from vaginal irritation or while you are waiting for your doctor’s diagnosis, discontinue sexual intercourse. This will assist in the prevention of spreading the infection or disease.

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