Vaginal Burning Sensation

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What is a vaginal burning sensation?

A vaginal burning sensation is an abnormal condition of the vagina often caused by inflammation or infection of the vagina, genitals, or urinary tract. Because these structures are very closely located and related, what may feel like vaginal burning may actually be burning or discomfort occurring in the vulva or external genital area.

Vaginal burning sensations vary in intensity depending on the underlying cause and individual factors. The burning sensation can be constant or only felt during certain activities, such as urination or sex. A vaginal burning sensation can appear suddenly or gradually build over weeks or months.

A common underlying cause of vaginal or genitalia burning is intense itching and scratching of the genital area due to a vaginal yeast infection (vaginal thrush) caused by Candida albicans. A vaginal burning sensation can also be due to a variety of other diseases, disorders and conditions that cause itching or affect the vagina, cervix, genitals, or urinary tract including:

  • Changes in hormones

  • Infections such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

  • Sensitivity or allergic reactions to certain substances

  • Urinary tract infections

Making a diagnosis of the underlying cause of vaginal burning includes taking a medical and sexual history and completing a physical and pelvic exam. During a pelvic examination, your health care practitioner will examine the external genitalia and gently open the vagina with a smooth instrument called a speculum in order to view the vagina and cervix. Your provider will also take a small sample of cells to determine if an infection is present and the type of infectious organism.
A vaginal burning sensation is often treatable. Treatment of vaginal burning caused by a disease or infection varies and is tailored to the underlying cause and the presence of any complications. For example, if vaginal burning is caused by a yeast infection, antifungal medications are prescribed. If vaginal burning is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are prescribed.

You should seek prompt medical care if you have unexplained or persistent vaginal burning. Some underlying causes, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and urinary tract infections, can lead to serious complications if untreated. Complications include kidney infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, and serious complications of pregnancy and of the newborn child. Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes of vaginal burning reduce the risk of potential complications.

What other symptoms might occur with a vaginal burning sensation?

A vaginal burning sensation may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, a vaginal burning sensation due to a yeast infection generally occurs with a thick, white vaginal discharge with a texture that resembles cottage cheese.

Symptoms that may occur along with a vaginal burning sensation

Vaginal burning may accompany other symptoms including:

  • Fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, weight loss, and rashes on other parts of the body due to second-stage syphilis

  • Fever due to an abscess or infection

  • Irritation of the vagina or genital area

  • Pain when urinating

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Rash on the skin of the genital area

  • Strong or persistent vaginal odor that may be described as a fish-like odor

  • Symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and irregular or loss of menstrual periods

  • Unusual or heavy and persistent vaginal discharge

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting

  • Vaginal or anal itching

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, a vaginal burning sensation can be caused by or indicate a serious underlying condition, such as a urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease (STD). Seek prompt medical care if you have unexplained or persistent vaginal burning. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have the following symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Dizziness that is unexplained or persistent

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or any bleeding with pregnancy

  • Severe lower abdominal or back pain

What causes a vaginal burning sensation?

A vaginal burning sensation can be caused by a variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases and conditions that affect the vagina, cervix, genitals, or urinary tract. It can also be caused by physical factors in your environment. Depending on the cause, you may experience continuous vaginal burning or you may only feel burning or discomfort while urinating or during sex.

Infections that can cause a vaginal burning sensation

Vaginal burning can be caused by certain infections or by excessive itching and scratching of the genital area due to infections such as:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (overgrowth of Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria, which normally live in the vagina)

  • Chlamydia (sexually transmitted disease caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria)

  • Genital herpes (sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes virus)

  • Gonorrhea (sexually transmitted disease caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria)

  • Pubic lice (also known as crabs, which do not infest the vagina but infect and cause itching in the general genital area)

  • Trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted disease caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis)

  • Urinary tract infection (bacterial infection of the urinary tract)

  • Vaginal pinworm infection that has spread from the rectum

  • Vaginal yeast infection (vaginal thrush) caused by Candida albicans

  • Vaginitis (also called vulvovaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina and vulva often caused by an infection)

Diseases and disorders that can cause a vaginal burning sensation

Vaginal burning sensation can also be caused by other disorders, diseases and conditions including:

  • Atrophic vaginitis (vaginitis that is not caused by infection)

  • Lichen sclerosus (chronic disorder that causes changes in the genitalia)

  • Vulvar cancer

  • Vulvar dystrophy (growth of abnormal skin on the vulva)

  • Vulvodynia (unexplained pain in the vulva)

Physical and hormonal causes of a vaginal burning sensation

Vaginal burning sensation can also be caused by general irritation due to the following physical factors:

  • Allergic reaction or irritation of the vagina by chemicals, such as perfumed soaps, bubble baths, feminine sprays, contraceptive foams, or jellies

  • Douching

  • High-absorbency tampon for a small amount of menstrual flow

  • Menopause

  • Rough sex or sexual assault

  • Tampon left in the vagina for more than several hours

  • Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sexual intercourse; many conditions including diabetes can cause vaginal dryness

  • Wearing tight-fitting underwear or pants that causes a heat rash or irritation of delicate genital tissues

What are the potential complications of a vaginal burning sensation?

In some cases, a sensation of vaginal burning can be due to an underlying condition that can result in serious or life-threatening complications. You can minimize the risk of serious complications by seeking medical care and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of the underlying causes of vaginal burning include:

  • Birth defects, premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth due to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) during pregnancy

  • Higher risk of catching HIV/AIDS

  • Kidney disease

  • Meningitis

  • Spread of certain infections to unborn children during pregnancy and childbirth or through breastfeeding

  • Spread of infection to the eyes or other organs

  • Spread of STDs to sexual partners
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Disorders of the Vulva. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq088.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20140530T1212054404.
  2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/
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