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  • Michael Frey, MD

Bump on your vagina?

Discovering an odd lump, bump, spot or rash on your vagina can be unnerving.


Vaginal lumps and bumps are surprisingly common, and they can occur for a number of reasons. In most cases, the occasional lump is likely to be perfectly harmless. Here is a list of 10 possible causes of a lump on the vulva or vagina.

1. Bartholin Cyst or Abscess


A woman has two Bartholin glands. They are located on the sides of the vaginal opening. These pea-sized glands make mucus. This mucus lubricates the outside part of the vagina (vulva). If a tube (duct) in one of these glands becomes blocked, it can cause a cyst or abscess.


What causes a Bartholin cyst or abscess? A cyst can form when the duct of a Bartholin gland becomes blocked. The mucus can’t come out of the gland. It builds up. If the cyst becomes infected, it may turn into an abscess.


Symptoms of a Bartholin cyst or abscess A Bartholin cyst starts as a small bump. It may cause no other symptoms. Or it may grow bigger. It can then cause swelling and pain. If an abscess forms, it can be very painful. You may have a fever. You may have trouble walking, sitting, or having sex.


Treatment for a Bartholin cyst or abscess A cyst that doesn’t cause any symptoms may not need to be treated. It may go away on its own. But if you feel discomfort or pain, treatment options include:

  • Medicine. Over-the-counter pain medicines can help. In some cases, you may need antibiotics if an infection is severe or a cyst or abscess comes back.

  • Sitz bath. Soaking the genital area in a hot bath filled with Dr. Teal's Epsom Salt can ease pain and sometimes help the cyst to drain on its own.

  • Warm soaks. Soak a baby diaper (Pampers brand is best) with hot water, apply to the area twice a day for 20 minutes each. Consider using hot milk instead of water (though it is messier and more expensive.)

  • Drainage. Cutting open the cyst allows the fluid inside it to drain. This eases discomfort and pain. A tube (catheter) may be inserted to help with drainage. This catheter may need to stay in place for up to 4 weeks.

  • Surgery. You may need to have the Bartholin glands removed if other treatments don’t work. More information about Bartholin Gland Cyst.



2. Ingrown hair, razor burn, and infected hair follicles


Shaving, waxing, or plucking pubic hairs increases your risk for ingrown pubic hair, razor burn, and infected hair follicles. That can cause a small, round, sometimes painful, or itchy bump to form. The bump may be filled with pus, and the skin around the bump may also become darker.


Don’t try to extract the ingrown hair on your own. That can lead to infection. In most cases, it will resolve without treatment. You can use warm compresses, sitz baths, and anti-bacterial cream for stubborn lesions.


  • Medicine. Over-the-counter pain medicines can help. In some cases, you may need antibiotics if an infection is severe or a cyst or abscess comes back.

  • Sitz bath. Soaking the genital area in a hot bath filled with Dr. Teal's Epsom Salt can ease pain and sometimes help the cyst to drain on its own.

  • Warm soaks. Soak a baby diaper (Pampers brand is best) with hot water, apply to the area twice a day for 20 minutes each. Consider using hot milk instead of water (though it is messier and more expensive.)

  • Drainage. Cutting open the area allows the fluid inside it to drain. This eases discomfort and pain. This is rarely needed.


3. Epidermoid inclusion cyst


Epidermoid cysts are noncancerous small bumps beneath the skin. The cysts are formed when the surface skin is folded in on itself. The cyst then becomes filled with dead skin cells.Epidermoid cysts are often found around hair follicles.


Epidermoid cysts may go away on their own. Try warm soaks and sitz baths. The cysts are not painful, unless they become inflamed or infected. An epidermoid cyst that is inflamed can be injected with steroids. This can reduce inflammation and the cyst may not need to be drained. But infected cysts may need to be cut and drained.


4. Varicosities


These are swollen veins – like varicose veins. They can often be found during pregnancy, as the weight of the uterus during pregnancy reduces blood flow, so the veins dilate. They can also occur in women who stand for long periods of time.


Varicosities symptoms

These include visible twisted, swollen veins in the vulva, pain, and tenderness, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your vulva.


Varicosities treatment

They do normally just go away, so we don’t tend to do anything in terms of treatment. For some women, if they don’t go away, they can actually cause a great deal of discomfort. In these instances, you would be referred to a vascular surgeon for surgery.


5. Vaginal skin tags


These are very common little bumps of skin. The small, benign growths normally occur in places where your skin folds, so your vulva is a prime spot.


Vaginal skin tags symptoms

There are often no symptoms and the skin tags are harmless, although they can be annoying – especially as they can sometimes be confused with genital warts in appearance.


Vaginal skin tags treatment

You can have these taken off if you find them catching on your skin, or if you just want to have them removed.


6. Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosis is an uncommon skin condition that mainly affects women who have gone through menopause. It’s most often seen on the vulva and around the anus. Symptoms may include:

  • itching, often severe

  • thin, shiny skin that may tear easily

  • white spots on the skin that over time can become patches of thin, wrinkled skin

  • bleeding or bruising

  • blisters, which may or may not be filled with blood

  • pain when urinating or during sex


Lichen sclerosus is usually treated with corticosteroid cream or ointment. It can return after treatment. Women who have lichen sclerosus have a slightly increased risk for cancer of the vulva.



7. Genital herpes

Genital herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes is transmitted by vaginal, oral, or anal sex. An estimated one in five Americans has genital herpes. Often, the symptoms are so mild that those with herpes aren’t aware they have the condition.


The first outbreak of herpes can produce symptoms that are like flu, including:

  • fever

  • swollen glands

  • large sores

  • pain in the genitals, bottom, and legs

Later, symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • tingling or itching

  • multiple red bumps that turn into painful pimples or blisters

  • small indentations, or ulcers

Herpes symptoms often clear up, only to return again. Over time, most people experience fewer and less severe outbreaks.


There’s no cure for genital herpes, but the severity and duration of symptoms can be controlled by antiviral medications. You shouldn’t have sex if you have visible herpes sores. Using condoms during sex will significantly reduce your chances of getting herpes.




8. Genital warts


Genital warts look like little cauliflower-shaped bumps. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), types 6 and 11. It’s important to know that these warts do not cause cancer, but they are contagious and can be passed through skin-to-skin contact, via sex, and by sharing sex toys.


Genital warts symptoms

As well as the cauliflower-shaped bumps, you may also notice itching, discomfort, and bleeding.


Genital warts treatment

Genital warts are treated either with a cream or liquid nitrogen and sometimes by laser treatment or surgery.


While genital warts can be treated, the HPV virus can remain in your body, meaning you could have another outbreak at some point.


Click for more information on Genital Warts.

9. Vulvar cancer


Vulvar cancer is very rare and the causes are not entirely clear. However, your risk of developing vulvar cancer increases with age, and you are at greater risk of developing it if you are a smoker or if you have had repeated infections with certain types of HPV.


Vulvar cancer symptoms

Vulval cancer often presents itself as a hard lump or an ulcer, and it can cause pain and itching. Other symptoms can include bleeding and a burning sensation when passing urine.


Vulvar cancer treatment

Usually include surgery and radiotherapy.


10. Hidradenitis suppurativa


Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a skin disease. It causes deep, painful boils or pockets of infection (abscesses) in your skin. These abscesses grow when the deep roots of hair follicles get blocked.


Hidradenitis suppurativa is not caused by an infection or being unclean, and it can't be spread to other people.


What causes hidradenitis suppurativa? Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes hidradenitis suppurativa. It seems to develop when hair follicles get blocked and rupture. Then the area becomes inflamed.


Symptoms:

  • Painful boils in areas of skin that have hair and are near the sweat glands, such as under your arms or around the groin.

  • Painful, swollen lumps under the skin.

  • Pus-filled, oozing boils.

  • Bad odor from the boils.

  • Changes in skin color and scarring around the area.


How is hidradenitis suppurativa treated?

  • Antibiotics. Many people find some relief by using antibiotics, either spread on the skin (topical) or taken by mouth.

  • Lose weight, if needed. It may help ease your symptoms.

  • Steroid shots. They are done directly into sores to reduce inflammation.

  • Stay out of hot, humid climates.

  • Try to keep a low-stress level.

  • Seek counseling if you feel isolated and depressed.

  • Don't wear tight, synthetic clothing.

  • Take good care of your skin and maintain proper hygiene.

  • Don’t cut the sores. It can lead to chronic scarring and more complications.


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