A burning sensation is a type of pain that’s distinct from dull, stabbing, or aching pain. A burning pain is often related to nerve problems. However, there are many other possible causes. Injuries, infections, and autoimmune disorders have the potential to trigger nerve pain, and in some cases cause nerve damage.
Many medical conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments are helpful in controlling the pain. You should seek treatment from your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about a burning sensation and suspect you have a health problem.
Many different conditions can cause a burning sensation. Here is a list of 20 possible causes.
Warning: Graphic images ahead.
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- The viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2 cause oral and genital lesions
- These painful blisters occur alone or in clusters and weep clear yellow fluid and then crust over
- Signs also include mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, headache, body aches, and decreased appetite
- Blisters may reoccur in response to stress, mensturation, illness, or sun exposure
Image by: BruceBlaus/Wikimedia
- Moderate to severe lower back and leg pain is caused by sciatic nerve irritation
- Sharp or tingling pain flows from your lower back through your buttock area and into your lower limbs
- Numbness or weakness occurs in your legs or feet
- A "pins and needles" sensation may also occur in the feet
- Bladder or bowel incontinance is a sign of a medical emergency called cauda equina syndrome
- Canker sores are also called aphthous stomatitis or aphthous ulcers
- They are small, painful, oval-shaped ulcers on the inside of the mouth that appear red, white, or yellow in color
- They are usually harmless and heal on their own in a couple of weeks
- Recurrent ulcers may be a sign of other diseases, such as Crohn's disease, celiac disease, vitamin deficiency, or HIV
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- Chronic skin disease that goes through cycles of fading and relapse
- Relapses may be triggered by spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, sunlight, stress, and the intestinal bacteria Helicobacter pylori
- There are four subtypes of rosacea encompassing a wide variety of symptoms
- Common symptoms include facial flushing, raised, red bumps, facial redness, skin dryness, and skin sensitivity
Peripheral vascular disease
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- This blood circulation disorder causes the blood vessels outside of your heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm
- Symptoms may be caused by arteriosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries") or by blood vessel spasms
- It typically causes pain and fatigue in the legs that worsens with exercise and gets better with rest
- This disorder occurs when the nerves outside of your spinal cord (peripheral nerves) malfunction because they’re damaged or destroyed
- It's caused by many different infections, diseases, injury, and some medications
- Symptoms include tingling in the hands or feet; sharp, stabbing pains; numbness; weakness; sexual dysfunction; bladder problems
Gastroespohageal reflux disease (GERD)
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- GERD occurs when stomach acids and other stomach contents back up into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)
- Common symptoms include heartburn, a sour taste in the mouth, regurgitation, dyspepsia, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, and dry cough
- Symptoms worsen when lying down, bending over, or after eating spicy, fatty, or large meals
- Carpal tunnel is caused by pinching and squeezing of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist into the hand
- Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and pain in your thumb and the first three fingers of your hand
- It also leads to weakness in the muscles of the hand
- Symptoms usually worsen with activites that involve bending the wrist, such as typing, using tools, driving, or holding a phone
- Very painful rash that may burn, tingle, or itch, even if there are no blisters present
- Rash comprising clusters of fluid-filled blisters that break easily and weep fluid
- Rash emerges in a linear stripe pattern that appears most commonly on the torso, but may occur on other parts of the body, including the face
- Rash may be accompanied by low fever, chills, headache, or fatigue
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- This type of anemia is caused by an inability to absorb the vitamin B-12 needed for your body to make enough healthy red blood cells
- Weakness, headaches, chest pain, weight loss are possible symptoms
- Rare neurological symptoms include wobbly gait, memory loss, spasticity, and peripheral neuropathy
- Cervical spondylosis is a common, age-related condition that affects the joints and discs in the neck
- Over time, the vertebral discs, joints, and bones of the cervical spine degenerate from regular wear and tear on cartilage and bones
- It may cause mild to severe chronic pain and stiffness in the neck
- Mononeuritis is a condition caused by damage to the nerves that lie outside the spinal cord (peripheral nervous system)
- It has many possible causes, including autoimmune, systemic, and infectious diseases
- Symptoms include weakness or paralysis, numbness, tingling or "electric/shooting" pain in one or more areas of your body
- Symptoms of neuralgia are caused by irritated or damaged nerves
- Neuralgia is a tingling, stabbing, burning, severe pain that may occur anywhere on the body
- It's caused by many different diseases and infections, including shingles, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, nerve compression, medication side effects, trauma, and kidney disease
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- Multiple sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects the protective coverings of nerve cells
- It has unpredictable symptoms that can vary in intensity and duration
- Symptoms include vision problems, tingling and numbness, pain, spasms, weakness, and fatigue
- It can also cause bladder issues, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, and cognitive problems
Central pain syndrome
- This syndrome is caused by damage to the central nervous system (CNS)
- Sensations of pain come directly from the brain or spinal cord and not from the peripheral nerves
- Symptoms can vary significantly in intensity, character, location, and timing
- Many internal and external stimuli may make the pain worse, including touch, emotional stress, movement, temperature changes, loud noises, bright lights, and sun exposure
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- Discs sit between each vertebrae and provide shock absorption and cushioning to the spine
- Disc herniation occurs when the soft, gelatinous disc interior protrudes out of a disc's rubbery, tough external ring
- It causes pain and numbness, most commonly on one side of the body and down one arm or leg
- Tingling, aching, or burning sensations in the affected area are other symptoms
- Unexplained muscle weakness may also occur
- This is a condition in which only a single nerve or nerve group is damaged
- Injuries, including accidents, falls, or repetitive motion stress, are the most common causes
- There are several forms of mononeuropathy, which vary in seriousness, rarity, and symptoms
- Common symptoms of mononeuropathy include loss of sensation, tingling or burning, lack of coordination, weakness, muscle wasting and pain
- Radiculopathy is caused by a pinched nerve in the spine
- Symptoms may affect different areas of the back, arms, or legs, depending on which nerve is compressed
- Symptoms include a sharp pain that may worsen with certain movements, shooting pain, numbness, weakness, tingling, and loss of reflexes
This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.
- Frostbite is caused by extreme cold damage to a body part
- Common locations for frostbite include fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin
- Symptoms include numb, prickly skin that may be white or yellow and feel waxy or hard
- Severe frostbite symptoms include blackening of the skin, complete loss of sensation, and fluid- or blood-filled blisters
Bites and stings
This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.
- Redness or swelling at the site of the bite or sting
- Itching and soreness at the site of the bite
- Pain in the affected area or in the muscles
- Heat around the bite or sting
One of the most common reasons for burning pain is damage or dysfunction in the nervous system. This system is made up of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
The CNS is the primary command center and includes the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists of the nerves that branch out from the brain and spine, connecting the rest of the body to the CNS. There are several different types of nerve and spine conditions that may cause burning pain as a symptom.
- Central pain syndrome is a brain disorder that occurs when the nerves in the CNS are damaged. The condition can cause different types of painful sensations, including burning and aching.
- Cervical spondylosis is a result of aging. Wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the neck cause compression on the nerves. This leads to chronic neck pain along with a burning sensation.
- Herniated disk occurs when a disk in the spine slips out of place. The disks protect the bones in the spinal cord by absorbing shock from daily activities, such as walking and twisting. When a disk moves out of place, it can compress a nerve and cause a burning pain. It may also cause numbness or muscle weakness.
- Mononeuropathy is a group of conditions that can cause damage to a single nerve. The damage often results in a tingling or burning sensation in the affected part of the body. There are several types of mononeuropathy, including carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve palsy, and sciatica.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the CNS. Researchers believe that MS causes the body’s immune system to attack myelin, which is an insulating coating around nerve cells. Once myelin erodes, communication between nerve cells in the CNS is disrupted. When this happens, some parts of the body don’t receive instructions from the brain. This results in a variety of symptoms, including burning pain and spasms.
- Neuralgia is burning and stabbing pain that occurs along a damaged or irritated nerve. The affected nerve may be anywhere in the body, but it’s most often in the face or neck.
- Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that develops when a peripheral nerve is damaged, affecting its ability to function correctly. It may trigger a burning sensation. When at least two nerves or areas are affected, as can happen in leprosy, the condition is called mononeuritis multiplex.
- Radiculopathy, also referred to as a pinched nerve in the spine, is a natural part of aging. It occurs when surrounding bones, cartilage, or muscle deteriorates over time. The condition may also be triggered by injury or trauma to the spine. Radiculopathy causes burning pain in some cases, but not all.
Accidents, injuries, and traumas are other possible causes of burning sensations.
- Frostbite occurs when skin and the tissue under it freeze. Before numbness sets in, frostbite produces a burning sensation.
- Stings and bites from insects or animals that are venomous, such as snakes, produce a burning sensation at the affected area.
- Whiplash is an injury that occurs when someone’s head moves back and forth very suddenly with great force. The injury is most common after a car accident. It can cause a burning pain and stiffness in the neck.
Certain nutritional deficiencies can also include burning pain as a symptom.
- Beriberi is a deficiency in thiamine, or vitamin B-1.
- Hypoparathyroidism is a rare disease characterized by an underproduction of parathyroid hormone, a hormone produced by glands in the neck. This can lead to a calcium deficiency.
- Megaloblastic anemia may be related to a vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiency.
- Pernicious anemia causes a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
There are other potential causes of a burning sensation in different parts of the body.
- Canker sores are mouth ulcers or sores caused by a virus. They are usually very painful.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is chronic acid reflux, which occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus. The condition can cause a burning sensation in the esophagus, chest, or stomach.
- Herpes simplex is a contagious viral infection that causes painful, tingling sores on various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth.
- Peripheral vascular disease (PVDs) is a blood circulation disorder that affects veins and arteries outside of the heart and brain. It often causes burning pain that gets worse when walking.
- Rosacea is a skin condition that produces red, pus-filled bumps on various areas of the body. The affected areas can sometimes feel hot.
- Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, occurs in people who were previously infected with the chickenpox virus. It usually appears as a burning, painful rash on one side of the body.
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing a persistent burning sensation. During your appointment, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask you about your pain. Be prepared to answer questions that may include:
- the location of the pain
- the severity of the pain
- when the pain began
- how often you experience the pain
- any other symptoms you may be experiencing
Your healthcare provider will also order certain tests to try to identify the underlying cause of your burning pain. These diagnostic tests may include:
- blood or urine tests to check for nutritional deficiencies and other conditions
- imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, to examine bones and muscles in the spine
- electromyography (EMG) to assess the health of nerves and muscles
- nerve conduction velocity test to determine how quickly electrical signals move through a particular peripheral nerve
- nerve biopsy to check for nerve damage in a particular part of the body
- skin biopsy to examine a small sample of the affected skin under a microscope for the presence of abnormal cells
Treatment for a burning sensation depends on the underlying cause. If your healthcare provider finds an underlying health condition, they will attempt to treat that particular condition first. Your course of treatment will vary depending on the problem. Treatment may include:
- physical therapy
- dietary changes
- lifestyle modifications
The burning pain can be controlled with anti-inflammatory medications, prescription painkillers, or over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You can also ask your healthcare provider about certain home remedies that may help treat your condition.
Many conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments can make a big difference in reducing the pain and any other symptoms. You should see your healthcare provider so you can receive a diagnosis and treatment for the problem that may be causing your burning sensation. Make sure you stick with your treatment plan and attend any necessary follow-up appointments.
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