The Bartholin glands are two tiny glands that are located under a woman’s skin on either side of the labia. Bartholin glands produce the fluids that lubricate the thin skin of the vulva – the outer opening of the vagina. The fluid is secreted by Bartholin ducts, which are two tiny tubes opening near the vagina.
Occasionally, mucus, swelling, or an infection can block the Bartholin ducts, causing a cyst. A Bartholin gland cyst may grow gradually, and range in size from a few millimeters to a centimeter in diameter.
Many Bartholin cysts are painless and will resolve on their own. However, some may cause discomfort, and in some cases, can become infected. An infected Bartholin gland cyst is known as an abscess, and must be treated right away.
Symptoms of Bartholin Gland Cysts
Bartholin gland cysts that are not infected will sometimes have no symptoms at all. But some common symptoms include:
- Small, painless bump or lump under the vulvar skin
- Swelling or redness
- Discomfort while sitting, walking, or during sex
An infected cyst, also known as an abscess, will present with more severe symptoms, such as:
- Swelling, redness, and tenderness in the vulva
- Pain that worsens with time, making it difficult to sit or walk
- Fluid draining from the cyst
- Fever or chills
Treating Bartholin Gland Cysts
Although many times these cysts will go away on their own, they may be uncomfortable to deal with. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc), can help with the discomfort. Avoid sex until the cyst has healed.
You can help the cyst heal by soaking in a warm bath, with or without Epsom salt. You can use your regular tub or a sitz bath, which is a basin you can place over your toilet seat and use to soak the genitals. These can be purchased at a pharmacy or medical supply store.
Some women find that application of tea tree oil or witch hazel can help draw the cyst out.
Infected cysts (abscesses)
If you have an infected Bartholin gland cyst, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Sometimes, a cyst can become infected due to an underlying STI, which would require treatment.
An infected cyst may rupture on its own and heal within 3-4 days. However, you may also need it drained by your OB-GYN. In addition, you may need to take antibiotics to fight the infection.
To prevent the cyst from reoccurring, your doctor may recommend:
- Drainage tube/balloon. A small tube and balloon can be inserted into the cyst to keep it from clogging up again. The balloon should be removed after the area has healed.
- Carbon dioxide laser treatment
- Silver nitrate application
- Surgery. A persistent cyst that keeps coming back might need to be treated with surgery. Your doctor can surgically remove the Bartholin gland and duct to prevent future infections.
- Marsupialization. This is when the surgeon creates a pouch over the cyst by making an incision and then pursing the corners together with stitches, allowing the cyst an opening to drain.