Swelling of the labia minora is a common condition among women and can be treated if diagnosed at an early stage. Read the article to learn more about it.
The labia or lips are the skin folds present near the vaginal opening. They form an integral part of the female reproductive tract. The labia act like barriers and protect the internal reproductive organs like the vagina, clitoris, and urethra from getting damaged or infected. The female body comprises two pairs of labia. The outer pair of labia or lips is the labia majora, whereas the inner pair is the labia minora. There is a vast structural difference between the labia majora and labia minora. Labia minora are fleshy and surrounded by pubic hair.
In contrast, labia minora lacks fatty tissues and extends from the clitoris to the vaginal opening. The size of the labia varies from person to person, and that is alright. Sometimes, the labia minora of one side might be longer than the other. Also, the color of the labia varies according to the age of a woman. For example, young females are likely to have pinkish labia, whereas elderly females have brownish-black labia. The problem arises when infections, cysts, and other pathologic conditions cause swelling and inflammation of the labia.
Labia minora is a sensitive structure of the female genital tract and consists of delicate tissues susceptible to swelling and infection. The common causes of swollen labia minora are listed below:
1) Yeast Infection - Studies have reported that 75 % of women experience yeast or fungal infection once in their lifetime. Yeasts and some healthy bacteria are normally present in the body in small amounts. However, the problem arises when yeasts outgrow the healthy bacteria and cause infection. The most common culprit is Candida because it can cause swelling, itching, and burning of the labia and the entire vaginal area. In addition to these symptoms, some females might see a white or cottage cheese discharge from the vagina. The factors that increase the risk of yeast infections are listed below:
2) Bacterial Vaginosis - Bacterial vaginosis is similar to yeast infection and affects approximately 30 % of females of reproductive age. Bacterial vaginosis occurs due to the disruption of the bacteria equilibrium in the vagina. The factors that increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis include douching and females having multiple sexual partners. The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include the following:
Swollen labia minora.
Greenish or grayish discharge from the vagina.
Fishy smell from the vagina.
3) Trichomoniasis - Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease that affects 3 % of women of reproductive age. A parasite causes it, and in most cases, people do not present with any symptoms. The symptoms of trichomoniasis are listed below:
Burning and itching of the vulva.
Dysuria (painful urination).
Foul smell from the vagina.
Yellowish green vaginal discharge.
4) Allergies - If the woman presents with swollen labia but does not have an active infection, it is more likely to be due to allergies and infections. Labia minora might swell due to allergy to the following substances:
Latex in the condoms.
Perfumes or fragrances in detergents and soaps.
Certain clothes or fabrics.
5) Bartholin’s Cyst - Bartholin’s cyst occurs due to the blockage of Bartholin's glands. These glands are located outside the vagina on either side of the vaginal opening. The main function of these glands is to keep the vagina moist and lubricated for sexual intercourse. Infection, pain, and buildup of pus in the glands cause Bartholin's cyst. Due to this, the labia become tender and swollen.
6) Sexual Intercourse - Females involved in sexual activity without lubrication are likelier to have swollen labia. It is because a lot of friction gets generated during sex, damaging the labia and entire vaginal area.
Swollen labia might occur due to several reasons and medical conditions. Because of some medical conditions, the patient might present with the following symptoms along with swollen labia:
The genital areas might feel warm on the touch.
Burning and itching of the genitals.
Foul odor from the vagina.
Redness and a small bump on the labia.
Pain while sitting or walking.
The doctors usually diagnose swelling of the labia minora based on the following diagnostic methods:
Medical History - A medical history helps the doctor understand the general health of the patient’s condition. The doctor mainly focuses on the sexual history of the patient to know about the causes of swelling in the labia minora. Also, the doctor might ask about the condition's symptoms to rule out other medical conditions.
Physical Examination - A physical examination is done to check the swelling and tenderness of the vagina, vulva, clitoris, labia, and other genital organs. Swollen labia can be easily seen through a physical examination.
Vaginal Swab - In a vaginal or valvular swab test, the doctor will take a sample of the cells forming the vagina and vulva. This cell sample will be analyzed in the laboratory to detect the abnormalities in the cell.
Urinalysis - Urinalysis is a simple diagnostic test done to detect urologic abnormalities. In this test, the patient is asked to collect the urine in a container or a sterile bag provided by the hospital. The urine sample is then sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. This test helps identify the bacterial strain that caused infection of the labia.
The treatment depends upon the factors that caused the swelling of the labia minora. The treatment options are described below:
Medications and Surgery - Swelling in the labia minora occurs for various reasons, and surgical intervention is required in rare cases. Females having swollen labia minora due to allergy or sexual intercourse might benefit from steroid creams. If yeast infections cause swollen labia minora, the doctor might recommend over-the-counter or antifungal drugs to overcome the infection. These drugs can be applied topically or taken orally. Antibiotics can be taken if labia appear swollen due to trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis. Surgical drainage is usually done in the case of Bartholin’s cyst.
Home Remedies - The following remedies help treat swollen labia minora:
Apply a cool compress to the labia several times a day as it helps reduce the swelling. Cool compresses are available at a medical store and can be purchased online.
Sitz bath also helps to treat labia swelling due to Bartholin's cysts. A sitz bath is a simple method where the patient must sit in a bathtub containing warm water for a few days or four. Taking a sitz bath several times a day reduces swelling and helps drain the cyst.
Females having swollen labia due to yeast infection must drink one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water three times daily. It is one of the most popular home remedies for fungal infections.
Studies have reported that probiotic supplements or probiotic-rich foods like natural yogurt and kefir help prevent or treat vaginal infections.
Garlic is a natural antifungal agent used to treat vaginal infections. Studies have reported that vaginal creams made of garlic and thyme best treat vaginal infections.
Avoiding processed or refined foods containing excess sugars helps prevent recurrent vaginal infections.
Tea tree, coconut oil, and oregano oil also provide therapeutic effects.
Tips for Prevention and Self-Care:
The following tips help prevent vaginal infections:
Maintain good genital hygiene.
Avoid using tampons; instead, use pads.
Do not douche because it disturbs the bacterial balance in the vagina.
Wear loose clothes.
Do not wear tight undergarments; instead, wear cotton undergarments.
Wipe from front to back after urinating.
Avoid scented soaps or detergents that cause vaginal irritation and itching.
Use antibiotics only when they are needed.
Use effective barrier contraceptive methods during intercourse.
Do not engage in sexual activities without using a lubricant. It helps to reduce the friction produced during sex.
Labia minora is a part of the female vagina and is prone to infections, swelling, inflammation, and cysts due to several reasons. According to the studies, approximately 30 % of females develop swelling in the labia due to bacterial or fungal infections. However, the patient need not worry because it is not a life-threatening condition. Several home remedies and topical medications are available to treat swelling and infections. So, the patient must not feel embarrassed and consult the doctor at the earliest to learn more about the management and prevention of swollen labia minora.
Last reviewed at:
24 Jan 2023 - 6 min read
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