Discovered a new lump or bump on your vulva? Take a deep breath, there is no need to panic. Not all bumps and lumps on the vulva are scary or bad! It’s important to know your body and what is normal and what is concerning enough to see a doctor. Here are some common causes of changes in the skin in the vulva and vagina.
There are several glands on the vulva, including oil glands such as Bartholin’s glands. If these glands get blocked, a cyst can form. Bartholin’s glands are located at 4 and 8 o’clock on the vaginal opening and secretes fluid that lubricates the vagina. Sometimes the openings of these glands become obstructed, causing fluid to back up into the gland. The result is relatively painless swelling called a Bartholin's cyst. If these continue to grow or get infected, they can cause pain.
Sebaceous cysts happen when oil-producing (sebaceous) glands near hair follicles get blocked. Sebaceous glands (oil glands) that lubricate the skin and hair get obstructed and cause a cyst. There may be one or multiple but are generally painless; however, they may grow to larger sizes resulting in discomfort and pain.
Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Often they have the appearance of cauliflower and will usually be more than one clustered together. Sometimes they can appear flat and not raised. You can get them from skin to skin contact with someone who has the virus.
Molluscum contagiosum is passed along by adults through sexual contact. They appear as multiple little red bumps with a crate in the middle. They can be very small or as large as a pencil eraser and usually show up in adults who have a weak immune system.
Shaving or waxing pubic hair increases your risk of ingrown hairs. This can cause a small, round, sometimes painful, or itchy bump filled with pus. Don’t try to remove the ingrown hair on your own because it can lead to an infection of the hair follicle called folliculitis.
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. Herpes usually presents as multiple shallow and painful ulcers. In the first outbreak, you will also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes in the groin area, and pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor can swab the sore and do bloodwork to make a diagnosis. There is no cure for the virus, but medication can control the severity and duration of symptoms.
It’s always a good idea to see a doctor if you’re unsure about changes to your body. If you have a new lump that doesn’t go away or have signs and symptoms of an infection, don’t panic. Make an appointment to see your doctor about a diagnosis, treatment, and prevention in the future.
Dr. Jodie Horton