Most bumps on the vagina are normal — here's when to see a doctor
- Bumps on the vagina are common and are often not a cause for concern.
- Sometimes bumps on the vagina can indicate genital warts or herpes, which need medical attention.
It can be worrisome to feel a bump anywhere on your body, but when it's on or near your vagina, it's especially unnerving. But before assuming the worst, know that many bumps are normal and harmless.
Skin growths such as seborrheic keratosis or skin tags, and common bumps like ingrown hairs or cysts generally don't require treatment, unless they cause irritation or become infected, says Alicia Little, MD, PhD, a dermatologist specializing in vulvar skin conditions at Yale Medicine.
Sexually transmitted infections (STI) may also cause bumps around your genital area, though there are other symptoms you have to watch out for such as visible sores or skin ulcers.
Here are the common causes of bumps on or around the vagina and when you should seek medical attention.
What causes bumps on the vagina?
You are most likely to find bumps on your labia majora — the large, outer folds of the vulva — and pubic mound, which both grow hair, says Little.
There are plenty of reasons why you may have a bump around your genital area, which include:
- Fordyce spots: Pinhead-sized creamy yellow spots around the labia might be Fordyce spots, which are enlarged oil glands in the skin. They are generally harmless and occur in 70% to 80% of adults.
- Vaginal and vulvar cysts: Small, hard lumps called cysts may form on the vulva or wall of the vagina, which can happen when air, pus, or fluid builds up and leads to swelling. Childbirth injuries or noncancerous tumors may also cause cysts. Vaginal cysts (like vaginal inclusion cysts or Gartner's duct cysts) and vulvar cysts (such as sebaceous cysts or epidermoid cysts) are usually painless and may go away without treatment, but if they get infected, you would need to see a healthcare provider for surgical removal.
- Ingrown hair: Plucking, waxing, and shaving your pubic hair may result in ingrown hairs, which occurs when hair grows back into the skin instead of towards the surface. It appears like a small, round bump that may be itchy, painful, dark, or filled with pus. They often go away on their own, but you can treat it by applying warm compresses a few times a day on the affected area, says Little.
- Vaginal skin tags: Skin tags are small, harmless flaps of extra skin that appear as a raised skin growth with a smooth surface. The cause is unknown, but experts believe it might be due to skin friction.
- Genital warts: If you have clusters of skin-colored bumps or cauliflower-like patches of itchy warts in your vagina, on your vulva, or around the anus, you may have genital warts. It is a common STI caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). If you experience burning and itching, you can get treated for the warts, but there's no cure for the virus. However, the HPV vaccine is recommended in adolescents and young women to prevent genital cancers and warts caused by this virus.
- Genital herpes: Bumps that look like blisters and are accompanied by a burning sensation or pain with urination are often genital herpes sores. It is also an STI, but unlike genital warts, genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). which also causes cold sores on your lips. Outbreaks can be treated with antiviral medications, but herpes of any kind cannot be cured. There is no vaccine to prevent herpes.
- Bartholin's cyst: There are Bartholin's glands on each side of the vaginal opening that help lubricate the vagina, but when pus builds up inside of the glands, you may end up with a Bartholin's cyst. It is a tender, swollen lump that may or may not be filled with fluid or pus. You can treat them at home by soaking in warm water four times a day for three days, but if symptoms don't improve, it is important to seek medical attention. If they are painful, they can be drained as either an office or an operating room procedure.
- Cancer: A lump or mass in your vagina is one of the many symptoms of vaginal cancer, which may also cause painful urination and pelvic pain. It's crucial to go to the doctor if you experience such symptoms. A bump is unlikely to be vaginal cancer as it is a rare condition, occuring in about 0.7 per 100,000 people.
- Varicose veins: These enlarged and swollen veins that bulge from the skin usually show up on the legs and feet, but some people who are pregnant or postpartum can develop them on the vulva. Symptoms can include: a swollen labia, pressure around the vula, fatigue, and a painful, burning or itching feeling. They usually go away themselves, but they can be treated with surgery.
It's important to seek treatment if you have STIs (such as genital warts or genital herpes), infected cysts and ingrown hairs, or symptoms that accompany vaginal bumps, like pelvic pain.
Fordyce spots and vaginal skin tags aren't necessarily a cause for concern, but you can get them removed for cosmetic reasons.
"Anything that you think might be a genital wart should be seen by a doctor. Anything that is painful, draining pus, or with worsening redness should be seen by a doctor," says Little.
If you're really worried about a bump, you should see a doctor so they can check it out and walk you through treatment options.
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