Burning in the vaginal area isn’t normal and it isn’t something any healthy patient should experience. However, it is quite common and a lot of women experience vaginal discomfort at some point in their lives. There are several different causes and treatment, depending on the underlying cause.
What is Vaginal Burning?
Vaginal burning is an unusual vaginal condition that often results from an infection or inflammation in the vagina, urinary tract or vulva. The burning may vary in severity based on individual factors and the underlying cause. The patient may feel the pain continuously or only during certain activities, such as sex or urination. Vaginal burning can occur suddenly or build up gradually (x).
A common root cause of vaginal burning is severe scratching and itching of the genital region due to vaginal thrush. It may also be a result of various other conditions that trigger itching in the genitals, vagina, cervix or urinary tract, such as urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, allergic reactions or changes in hormone levels.
Vaginal burning is treatable in most cases. Treatment for an infection varies depending on the underlying cause and possible complications. For instance, if a yeast infection is the cause of vaginal burning, the patient will need antifungal medication. If the pain is a result of a bacterial infection, the patient will need antibiotics (x).
Accompanying Symptoms of Vaginal Burning
Other symptoms can accompany vaginal burning and they may differ based on the underlying condition. For instance, a yeast infection causes vaginal burning, but it typically also causes a creamy, white vaginal discharge. Other symptoms that may come with vaginal burning can include (x):
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Painful urinating
- Irritation in the genital area or vagina
- Fever caused by an infection or abscess
- Headaches, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue
- Rashes on the genital area
- Symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, such as period loss or irregular menstrual periods, mood swings and hot flashes
- Persistent, strong, fishy vaginal odor
- Anal or vaginal itching
- Unusual vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Heavy or unusual and continual vaginal discharge
Causes of Vaginal Burning
There are several possible factors that may trigger vaginal burning and each specific cause may have its own symptoms associated with it.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
There is a host of bacteria that live naturally in the vagina. However, when certain bacteria accumulates it upsets the normal bacterial balance and causes infection. According to the CDC, bacterial vaginosis is a very common infection, affecting many women between the ages of 15 and 44 (x).
One symptom of bacterial vaginosis is a burning sensation in the vagina, sometimes during urinating. Bacterial vaginosis usually doesn’t cause symptoms. When it does, the patient may have pain, itching and gray or white vaginal discharge. Patients may also notice a strong, fishy odor, especially after sex.
Without treatment, bacterial vaginosis can cause health complications. It increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Sometimes the infection goes away on its own, but patients who develop symptoms should get tested and treated by a doctor. Treatment for bacterial vaginosis will often require a course of antibiotics (x).
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
When the bladder, urethra and kidneys become infected, it causes a urinary tract infection. Common symptoms may include painful urination, fatigue, blood in urine, an urge to urinate more often and stomach pain. Urinary tract infections usually require prescription antibiotics to treat them. In most cases, an infection will go away about five days after using the antibiotic (x). However, sometimes the infection may recur and the patient may need to repeat the prescription course.
Some things may cause irritation when they come into direct contact with the vulva, which is the external genital area. The irritation is called contact dermatitis. Soaps, perfumes and fabrics may cause irritation and burning. Contact dermatitis also causes pain, stinging, rawness in the skin and severe itching (x).
To treat contact dermatitis, the patient should avoid using the products that caused the irritation and refrain from scratching the area to allow the skin to heal. Sometimes the patient may need medication if it is a severe case (x).
Genital herpes is an extremely common sexually transmitted disease from two viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2. It spreads through vaginal, oral or anal sex. Most patients do not show symptoms at all or if they do, the symptoms may be very mild. If they are noticeable, the patient may experience sores, unusual smelling discharge, burning and bleeding between periods. Genital herpes is never fully cured, but medication can prevent or shorten outbreaks, as well as reduce the risk of spreading the infection (x).
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection in which the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae attack mucus membranes, including the cervix, Fallopian tubes and uterus. It is especially common among individuals between 15 and 24. Most women do not show symptoms. But if they do, they may notice burning, bleeding between periods, painful urination and increased vaginal discharge. The infection is treatable with appropriate medical treatment, which usually requires two different kinds of medication (x).
Trichomoniasis is an extremely prevalent sexually transmitted disease. It’s caused by sexual contact with an infected individual. Only about 30 percent of patients with trichomoniasis show symptoms (x). In addition to vaginal burning, symptoms of trichomoniasis can include:
- Discomfort when urinating
- Itching, soreness or redness in the genitals
- Changes in vaginal discharge
- Clear, white, yellow or green discharge with a fishy smell
- Painful sex
Trichomoniasis is treated with oral medication, either tinidazole or metronidazole (x).
Chlamydia is an infection from the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. Typically, it spreads through sexual intercourse with someone who is infected with the bacteria. Research indicates that approximately 70 percent of patients with chlamydia do not have symptoms (x). For this reason, it is often called a “silent” infection.
Chlamydia usually affects the cervix in women and may spread to the upper reproductive tract. Symptoms of chlamydia can include:
- Painful sex and urination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Bleeding during sex and in between periods
- Abdominal pain
Chlamydia treatment requires antibiotics, doxycycline and azithromycin. Although physicians can treat the infection, it is important for sexually active individuals to get tested regularly. Even though chlamydia may not show visible symptoms, it can still cause long term effects and complications.
For example, the infection may spread to the uterus and Fallopian tubes. It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain and even infertility. If the patient is pregnant, it may cause premature birth, an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or the infection may spread to the unborn child (x).
Healthy vaginas have yeast, but sometimes it grows out of control and causes a yeast infection. It is also called candidiasis because it is caused by a bacteria called candidiasis. It is a common condition and a common source of vaginal discomfort. Candidiasis causes itching, redness, sores, painful urination and pain during sex. It also causes clumpy, white vaginal discharge.
Yeast infections result from changes in the vagina’s environment, like hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, antibiotics or diabetes. However, it typically only takes a few days to cure a yeast infection with topical antifungal medication (x).
The changing hormone levels in women’s bodies before menopause may affect the vagina. Specifically, it may cause burning, particularly during sex (x). Other notable symptoms of the transition to menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Mood changes
- Night sweats
- Reduced sex drive
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
Not all women reaching menopause require treatment to ease symptoms, but a doctor can often recommend various options, such as hormone therapy (x).
Treatment for Vaginal Burning
Sometimes, vaginal irritation may improve on its own. But if irritation or burning is severe, persistent or if it recurs after treatment, please see a doctor. Each occurrence of this condition has its own cause, accompanying symptoms and treatment options. For example, sexually transmitted diseases and bacterial vaginosis require antibiotics or antifungal medications. Burning and itching related to menopause can be treated with hormone replacement therapy or phytoestrogens. Steroid lotions or creams can also reduce inflammation related to menopause. Patients can manage yeast infections with antifungal medications (x, x).
Using a cold compress or ice pack on the affected area may help ease the discomfort. Applying petroleum jelly to the skin may also protect it from rashes. Avoiding tight-fitting clothing and wearing cotton underwear can help decrease irritation around the genital area. It’s also imperative to avoid items that might cause irritation, such as scented toilet paper, perfumed soap, deodorant and sanitary items with a plastic coating or deodorant.
Supplements to Boost Immune Health
The following supplements can help to boost immune health, potentially preventing infections that may cause vaginal burning. Always consult a doctor before beginning a supplement regimen. They are not a replacement for medical treatment.
This is a genus of plants, mostly herbs and small shrubs. Astragalus helps stimulate the immune system so the body can fight viruses and bacteria. It also comes as a dietary supplement in the form of a powder, extract or capsule. The extract holds 50 percent polysaccharides that might help maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The recommended dose for astragalus extract powder is 1,300 mg daily with food unless a doctor recommends a different dosage.
There are several species of the echinacea plant and its leaves, flowers and roots help make medicine. Echinacea is meant to support overall health. Specifically, it may help promote immune health and work as an anti-inflammatory. The recommended serving size for echinacea extract powder is 450 mg once or twice a day, or following a physician’s orders.
Elderberry extract contains useful anthocyanins and several nutrients, including Vitamin C and Vitamin A. While it often flavors food, this supplement may also promote regular digestive function and maintain urinary tract health. The suggested serving size for elderberry extract powder is 1,000 mg daily, or as suggested by a doctor.
Originating in Southeast Asia, ginger root is known for its numerous benefits that promote good overall health. But it is most renowned as an all-natural anti-inflammatory, which may help relieve digestive distress and related problems. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg of ginger root extract powder once a day, or as recommended by a physician. Take it with a large glass of water to prevent heartburn.
Although it sweetens beverages and candies, licorice root also has a medicinal history. Licorice root extract may help promote digestion and relieve headaches and coughs. It may also have anti inflammatory properties and act as an immune booster. Take 600 mg of licorice root extract powder daily, unless a doctor advises a different dosage.
The Bottom Line
Vaginal burning is an uncomfortable irritation in the genitals. It may occur during or after sex or during urination. It is a common disorder that many women face. Potential causes of vaginal burning include bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection, urinary tract infections and menopause. Vaginal burning can also be a sign of an STI.
The underlying cause of vaginal burning may also cause other symptoms like painful sexual intercourse, painful urination, irritation, itching, unusual vaginal spotting or bleeding or changes in vaginal discharge.
Most of the time, the discomfort will go away by itself eventually. If it doesn’t disappear, get worse or if it becomes a cause for concern, the patient might require medical attention. Usually, the doctor will prescribe medicine once they have diagnosed the underlying cause. Most conditions that cause vaginal burning are treatable. There are also some home remedies that may help ease the discomfort. Supplements are another option to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infection. However, it is best to always consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen.