Causes and Cures for Red and Itchy Vaginal Bumps
Vaginal Bumps and Itches: Is It an STD
There are many causes for itchy bumps on the vagina (or, to be exact, on the vulva, mons pubis, labia, or external parts of the vagina). The first thing a woman thinks of is a sexually transmitted disease but, although that is an understandable fear, often there is another explanation for these symptoms.
Itchy vaginal bumps are symptoms that are similar to those of some STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted infections). This makes it challenging to determine the culprit. Women should see their gynecologist for an accurate diagnosis of these bumps. However, if the vaginal bumps are not sexually transmitted, some simple over-the-counter remedies will cure or alleviate many cases.
Note: This article is about bumps that itch. Although there are many other reasons one might develop a bump on the vagina, we're narrowing our focus on the causes of the ones that itch, starting with the most harmless and least alarming.
Causes of Itchy Red Bumps on the Vagina
Harsh body products, sweat or oil secretions, wearing tight or synthetic underwear
Similar to pimples on other areas of the body
Clean area with warm water, no soap. Wear breathable clothing of natural materials. Don't try to pop it!
Shaving, certain body products, excessive sweat
Looks like a pimple, sometimes filled with pus. Sometimes you can see the hair inside
Regular exfoliating, shaving with a sharp razor or finding another hair removal method, or letting hair grow out
Sweat or friction from clothing that blocks hair follicle and can become infected
Begins as small red bumps or whiteheads and develops into infected, crusty sores
Usually heals on its own in approximately two weeks. Salt water compresses may help.
Redness, itchiness, red bumps, weeping, oozing and crusting
No cure; symptoms can be treated with moisturizing regimen at home or with corticosteroids
Virus spread through skin-to-skin contact that does not need to be sexual
Smooth, shiny bumps with central indentation; varying sizes and colors, filled with waxy substance, often itchy and sore
Usually go away on their own, but it could take months
Virus spread through skin-to-skin contact
Itching, burning, and tingling sensations that turn into blisters, which burst and turn into sores
No cure, but the symptoms can be managed and anti-virals taken to reduce occurrence of outbreaks
Genital Warts (HPV)
Virus spread through sexual contact
Skin-colored, itchy bumps that have the appearance of cauliflower, and are rough to the touch
No cure, but the warts usually go away on their own (though it can take up to 2 years)
Are Daily Habits Causing Vaginal Acne?
Acne is most often the cause of bumps that are red and itchy on and around the vagina. Vaginal pimples are like face pimples or those found elsewhere on the body. Vaginal acne is skin's natural reaction to harsh soap, douches, shaving, or not showering enough. In the teen and early adult years, this area may have excessive secretions—sweat or oil— which may clog the pores and lead to pimples. Wearing tight underwear made of synthetic or non-absorbent material can trap this moisture and cause acne, as well.
You can treat vaginal acne by cleaning the area with warm water (without soap) several times daily. Keep the area clean and dry and wear cotton underwear. Don't try to pop or squeeze the pimple, because this will just cause irritation and possibly lead to infection. A warm compress might help.
Extreme conditions of vaginal acne may require medical attention for treatment with cortisone injections or other means.
Maybe It's an Ingrown Hair?
It looks like a pimple (a red bump on the skin, varying in size, sometimes with pus inside), it feels like a pimple (painful and itchy), but it isn't a pimple, it's an ingrown hair.
Ingrown hairs are those that have somehow curled and grown sideways or back down into your skin instead of exiting. One common type of ingrown hair is called pseudofolliculitis, also known as razor bumps, a group of small bumps that appear after you've shaved, waxed, or tweezed. Because the hair is cut so short, it gets turned around and trapped under the surface of your skin.
This may happen more often to people with thick or curly hair. Also, it can happen if something clogs the pores and prevents the hair from growing out—for example, dead skin can clog a hair follicle, as can excessive sweat or certain products.
Usually, this bump will eventually heal itself. If you're prone to ingrown hairs, exfoliating (gently scrubbing away dead skin), using a sharp razor when shaving, shaving in the direction the hair is growing, switching to another method of hair removal, or letting the hair grow can all help.
If it doesn't heal itself, an ingrown hair may become infected. It may darken the skin or leave a scar, especially if you've been picking or scratching. If this happens, your doctor can make a small incision to get it out. Your doctor may also prescribe something to help.
Could It Be Folliculitis?
Folliculitis is an extremely common skin condition, one of the most common forms of bumps found in the genital area, caused by hair follicles that have become inflamed, often leading to a bacterial or fungal infection. It begins as small red bumps or whiteheads and develops into infected, crusty sores.
Folliculitis is caused by sweat or friction from clothing that blocks a hair follicle on or around the vagina. The resulting bumps may become infected.
Folliculitis usually heals on its own in approximately two weeks. If it is a small, singular bump, it can be treated by placing a warm compress on the area three times a day. A saltwater solution may offer relief. If there are multiple bumps, if they recur, or if a bump doesn't heal, a trip to the doctor for an incision, drainage, and antibiotic or anti-fungal may be required.
Could It Be Eczema?
Another cause of itchy, red vaginal bumps is eczema (aka atopic dermatitis). Eczema is "a general term for any superficial inflammatory process involving the epidermis, marked early by redness, itchiness, minute papules and vesicles, weeping, oozing and crusting."
We don't know exactly what causes it (although it is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and hereditary factors) and, unfortunately, we don't know a cure. For many, it is a recurrent and painful disease they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives.
There is no cure, but it can be treated. Your gynecologist may prescribe external topical corticosteroids, but they have some extreme side effects. Discomfort might also be alleviated with a variety of home remedies including using a cool compress or soaking in baths, followed by a moisturizing lotion regimen.
Use a cream with natural ingredients and no added perfume or fragrance. Aloe vera might be applied two or three times a day, but you'll want to watch to see how your skin responds. Adjusting eating habits along with stress reduction are also helpful in minimizing recurrence. Yogurt and acidophilus capsules have also been used to varying degrees of success.
Be careful not to scratch eczema bumps or the itchiness will intensify and the eczema will spread. These remedies may sound simple enough, but eczema is a tough culprit to clear up. It is essential to follow treatment advice on a daily basis.
Maybe It's a Viral Infection (Molluscum Contagiosum)?
Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that spreads through close skin-to-skin contact, including but not limited to sexual contact. In the vaginal area, this virus appears in the form of smooth and shiny round bumps of varying size, with a central indentation. They are firm to the touch and filled with a waxy substance. The bumps appear in varied colors ranging from white, pink, red, and other flesh tones and are often itchy, swollen, and sore.
Any activity that involves touching an infected person's bumps, touching the hand that scratched those bumps, or even contact with an infected towel or piece of clothing may expose you to the virus.
They usually disappear on their own, but it may take months. However, if you are sexually active or worried about exposing someone else, treatment will shorten the healing time. Your doctor may treat them with dry ice, topical cream, or laser removal.
Is It Genital (Vaginal) Herpes?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted virus (herpes simplex virus, or HSV) with no cure. Herpes lays dormant for periods of time, and it may reappear without warning under certain conditions, including menstruation, stress, and illness.
When symptoms are present, they may include itching, burning, or tingling sensations and painful blisters that turn into sores. Some people experience fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
You can contract vaginal herpes when your skin touches the skin of an infected partner during intercourse.
As stated, there is no cure for herpes. After a positive diagnosis, a physician may prescribe a daily oral medication to prevent outbreaks. Another option that is available is the medication Acyclovir, which can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription. This medication does not prevent herpes outbreaks, but it increases healing time and decreases symptoms once sores are present.
75%-80% of Americans carry at least one Herpes Simplex Virus (Type 1 or 2).
Could It Be Genital Warts (HPV)?
Another common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes genital warts, which are not always visible to the eye but if they are, might be skin-colored, itchy bumps that have the appearance of cauliflower, and are rough to the touch.
You will most often find these bumps on more than one place of the vagina. After exposure to the virus, it takes six weeks to six months (and sometimes longer) for the bumps to develop, so there is likely a period of time when the infected individual has no clue they have been exposed. Some rarer strains of the virus are especially dangerous because they can cause cancer of the cervix and vulva.
Genital warts are spread by skin-to-skin contact during sex. Because of the long incubation period, there is a chance HPV can be spread even when no warts are visible.
While there is no cure for HPV, the infection sometimes clears on its own. Testing positive for HPV doesn't mean you need treatment: your doctor may opt instead for close monitoring, especially if it's a rarer strain of HPV that can lead to cancer. Very often, our bodies fight off the virus. If so, the warts go away without treatment—for most women, the infection clears up within two years.
There are treatments to help with the symptoms and possibly help lower the chance of passing the infection to a partner. These therapies might reduce, but don't ensure against infection. Warts may be removed by various means: However, even after removal, the virus may cause future outbreaks.
What Are the Guidelines For Seeking Medical Care?
Many of the causes described above do not require medical attention or a prescription. However, it's important for you to ascertain the exact cause of your bumps, and there's no way to be sure without getting the proper tests.
Your gynecologist is the only one who can determine the cause of those itchy bumps near your vagina.
If you suspect a sexually transmitted disease or infection is the culprit, you'll need medical care as soon as possible. If you have vaginal bumps that you believe are not sexually transmitted, and they last longer than three days, you'll still need to have them examined by a physician.
Vaginal Bumps - Understanding When It's a Problem or Not
Vaginal Bump and STD Savvy Quiz
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© 2013 Rachael Jones