As anyone with a vagina and vulva can tell you, sometimes the odd lump or bump can develop on your nether regions. While it’s never a good idea to panic at the first sign of some unusual lumpiness, it’s also not something you want to ignore either. There can be a number of reasons you might see changes to your genitalia over the years, and understanding the lumps and bumps on your vagina and vulva and what they might mean is important to staying healthy.
“There are many causes and many types of bumps or growths that can happen in the vulvovaginal area,” Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care, explains. “Infection of the hair follicle, called folliculitis, and genital warts from HPV infection—which resemble cauliflowerlike growths,” can all cause abnormal-looking lumps she says. Skin infections or boils can also cause bumps, says Gupta, as can abscesses, which are “infectious cysts in the vulval area which can be very painful and tender.”
Bartholin’s abscess, which happens when the Bartholin’s gland gets infected, can also cause bumpy growths. Bartholin’s glands, which help lubricate the vagina, are located where the vagina meets the vulva—or at “the the junction of the vulvovaginal entrance,” she notes. “Blockage of the mouth of these glands can result in swelling and collection of fluid, which can form a cyst called Bartholin’s cyst. They can usually range anywhere from 1 to 6 centimeters.” If the Bartholin’s glands are not infected, she says, “They are painless and feel soft to touch.”
But if the Bartholin’s glands do get infected, then they become extremely painful and tender to touch, Gupta explains. In the case of infection, the cysts need to be drained by your doctor—which sometimes requires anesthesia depending on the size of the growth. She says Bartholin’s cysts can be stubborn to treat and tend to recur a lot.
Various treatment options are available for recurring cysts, and in severe cases, your doctor might perform a total removal of the Bartholin’s gland. Gupta says this is a more invasive procedure, however, and “requires a long healing time.” If you do get recurring cysts, don’t squeeze them, says Gupta—go see your gynecologist instead. Also, warm Epsom salts baths may also help Bartholin’s abscesses drain spontaneously on their own.
Shaving your vaginal area can also cause “the development of razor bumps, which can be red and itchy,” Dr. Kecia Gaither, double board-certified OB-GYN and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, explains. Chronic ingrown hairs can happen if you shave your pubic area, and it’s important not to pick at these, says Gaither, since this can cause infections. Aloe vera gel can help with irritation, as can steroid creams prescribed by your doctor. If you do opt for shaving your pubic area, make sure to “use a moisturizing gel to soften hairs prior to shaving,” she adds.
Cancers of the vulva and vagina, though rare, can happen, and Gaither further notes that skin cancers can also cause vulvovaginal growths. “These can present as a darkened mole or raised bump that’s irregular in shape and may bleed. Any mole that presents as such needs to be evaluated by your physician,” she says.
Lumps and bumps on your vagina and vulva can be caused by any number of conditions, and many of these, while not always dangerous to your health, can be chronic or uncomfortable. Make sure not to pick at any growths, pimples or lumps, as this can cause painful infections and make things worse. If you notice any changes to your vaginal area, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor ASAP—when in doubt, go see your gynecologist as soon as you can.