A common concern for women are bumps near the vagina. Before you panic, know that there are a several causes of bumps or pimples on the vulva (the outer genital area), and most of them are not sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or life-threatening problems.
Folliculitis, or blocked hair follicles, is probably the most common cause of “bumps” seen in women and men’s genitalia, and they can be the result of something as simple as shaving. The infected bumps are often red, irritated, and tender. They may require an antibiotic cream, and if they are more severe, antibiotic pills.
Cysts, fluid filled sacs, are common and can occur anywhere on the body. On the vulva, they often arise from a blocked skin gland. They often look like pimples or lumps under the skin. If they are fairly large or uncomfortable, a doctor can incise and drain them. Squeezing them on your own is not a good idea because it can introduce bacteria and cause infection. A few common genital cysts in women include:
- Skene’s duct cysts: These glands are found on either side of the urethra (where urine comes out). Cysts in this area usually cause few symptoms, but if they are larger, they can cause pain or problems with urination. You can try warm compresses, or, if they are infected, your doctor can open them up.
- Bartholin gland cysts: These glands are found on either side of the opening of the vagina, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). If they become blocked, cysts can form. If they are painful, they may be infected. Treatment includes warm compresses, sitz baths, and, if infected, draining of the cyst in a doctor’s office. Occasionally, they can recur and need a minor surgery to treat it.
Blocked sweat glands
Clogged sweat glands can occur anywhere, including the genitalia. These sweat glands can become infected. Hidradenitis suppurativa is one condition that causes painful clogged sweat glands that can occur in areas like the groin or anal area, under the breasts, or in the armpits. This condition causes painful red bumps or sores that may itch and leak pus, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Hot compresses, antibacterial soap, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to relieve symptoms. If your symptoms are more severe, antibiotics may be needed.
Genital herpes is an STD. When first infected, you may experience flu-like symptoms in addition to genital symptoms, according to ACOG. Genital symptoms may include tender and painful open sores, which often appear in clusters. Genital symptoms typically are painful, open ulcerations that eventually scab over, and heal without scars. After the first outbreak, recurrent outbreaks are usually shorter and less painful, decreasing in frequency over time. Treatment includes antiviral and pain medications.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is another common STD. Infection with certain types of HPV can cause genital warts (these are not the same types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer). Genital warts have a cauliflower-like appearance. They are rough to the touch and can spread. Treatment includes topical medications you can apply at home or freezing off the warts or other skin treatments in your doctor’s office.
This viral infection causes small, fleshy bumps on the vulva with a central indentation. They often are a pearly color. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this virus can be spread from person to person by sharing towels and clothing or through skin-to-skin contact. Often this condition goes away on its own over the course of a year to 18 months. However, it also may be treated more quickly with procedures including freezing, curettage (scrapping off the growths), and topic therapy.
Skin tags are fleshy, irregularly shaped growths of normal skin that can occur on the vulva or elsewhere on the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, they can be surgically removed by freezing or burning in a doctor’s office.
There are a multitude of other causes of female genital bumps. While most are minor and require little or limited treatment, others are STDs or other infections that need to be treated with the help of a medical professional. So if you discover a “bump,” be sure to get it checked out by your doctor for ultimate peace of mind.