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What Causes Vaginal Burning, and How Is It Treated?

Is this cause for concern?

Vaginal itching and irritation is common. It usually isn’t cause for concern. However, persistent itching, burning, and irritation may be a sign of infection or another underlying condition.

This includes discomfort anywhere in the vaginal area, such as your:

  • labia
  • clitoris
  • vaginal opening

These symptoms may begin suddenly or grow in intensity over time. The burning and irritation may be constant, or it may worsen during an activity like urination or sexual intercourse.

Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes, as well as other symptoms to watch for.

1. Irritation from things that indirectly affect the vagina

Chemicals found in everyday products can irritate the sensitive skin of the vagina and cause irritation and burning.

Products include:

  • laundry detergent
  • soaps
  • scented toilet paper
  • bubble bath products
  • menstrual pads

Irritation can also result from certain garments, including:

  • fitted pants
  • panty hose or tights
  • tight underwear

These symptoms may develop as soon as you begin using a new product. If the irritation is a result of clothes, burning and other symptoms may develop gradually as you wear the items more.

How to treat this

Avoid using any scented or perfumed products on your genitals. If symptoms occur after you use a new product, stop using it to see if the symptoms clear.

Be sure to take a bath or shower after you’ve been in a swimming pool or hot tub to wash away bacteria and chemicals that might irritate the tender tissue around your vagina.

2. Irritation from things that directly affect the vagina

Tampons, condoms, douches, creams, sprays, and other products you might put in or near the vagina can cause vaginal burning. These products can irritate the genitals and cause symptoms.

How to treat this

The easiest way to treat this is to stop using the product you believe is causing the irritation. If it’s a new product, identifying it may be easy. If symptoms go away when you stop using it, you know the culprit.

If your contraception or a condom is the source of the irritation, talk with your doctor about alternatives. Some condoms are made for people with sensitive skin. They may be better for your partner to use during intercourse. Extra water-soluble lubricant might be needed.

3. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44. It can develop when too much of a certain bacterium grows in the vagina.

In addition to burning, you may experience:

  • a thin white or gray discharge
  • a fish-like odor, especially after sex
  • itching outside the vagina

How to treat this

In some cases, BV will clear up without treatment. However, most women will need to see their doctor for prescription antibiotics. Be sure to take every dose of your prescription. This can help prevent the infection from returning.

4. Yeast infection

Almost 75 percent of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. They occur when yeast in the vagina grows excessively.

In addition to burning, you may experience:

  • itching and swelling of the vagina
  • itching, redness, and swelling of the vulva
  • pain when you urinate or during intercourse
  • thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese
  • red rash on the outside of the vagina

How to treat this

Infrequent yeast infections can usually be cleared with home remedies or over-the-counter antifungal medications. Medications typically include creams, ointments, or suppositories, which are inserted into the vagina. These can be purchased at a pharmacy over the counter.

But if you suspect you have a yeast infection and this is your first one, make an appointment to see your doctor. Many other conditions mimic the symptoms of a yeast infection. A diagnosis from your doctor is the only way to confirm it.

5. Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria get inside your urinary tract or bladder. It causes a feeling of internal burning and a painful sensation when you urinate.

You may also experience:

  • an intense urge to urinate, but little urine is produced when you try to go
  • the need to urinate frequently
  • pain when starting the stream
  • strong-smelling urine
  • cloudy urine
  • red, bright pink, or cola-color urine, which may be a sign of blood in the urine
  • fever and chills
  • stomach, back, or pelvic pain

How to treat this

If you suspect a UTI, see your doctor. They’ll prescribe a course of antibiotics that will clear the infection right up. Be sure to take every dose, even if your symptoms have subsided. If you don’t complete the antibiotics, the infection might return. Drink extra fluids during this time.

6. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis (trich) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States. It’s more common in women than men. Many women with the infection don’t have any symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • irritation and itching in the genital area
  • thin or frothy discharge that can be clear, white, yellow, or green
  • very foul-smelling odor
  • discomfort during intercourse and urination
  • lower abdominal pain

How to treat this

Trich is treated with a prescription antibiotic. In most cases, a single dose is all that’s needed. Both you and your partner will need to be treated before having intercourse again.

If left untreated, trich can increase your risk for other STDs and lead to long-term complications.

7. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is an STD. It’s especially common in young adults, ages 15 to 24.

Like many STDs, gonorrhea rarely produces symptoms. In most cases, an STD test is the only way to know for sure if you have this STD.

If you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • mild burning and irritation in the vagina
  • painful burning and irritation while urinating
  • unusual discharge
  • bleeding or spotting between periods

How to treat this

Gonorrhea is easily cured with a single-dose prescription antibiotic.

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility.

8. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is another common STD. Like many STDs, it may not cause symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they may include a burning sensation while urinating and abnormal discharge.

How to treat this

Chlamydia is cured with prescription antibiotics. But if left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system. This may make it difficult to conceive.

Repeat infection with chlamydia is common. Each subsequent infection increases your risk for fertility issues. Chlamydia is also a reportable STD. This means it’s important enough for health professionals to know about and track.

9. Genital herpes

Genital herpes is another common STD. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 out of every 6 people ages 14 to 49 has it in the United States.

When symptoms do occur, they’re often mild and may go unnoticed. Sores caused by genital herpes often resemble a pimple or ingrown hair.

These blisters may occur around the vagina, rectum, or mouth.

How to treat this

There isn’t a cure for genital herpes. It’s a virus that stays in your body. Prescription medication can reduce your risk of outbreaks and shorten the flare-up’s duration.

It’s important to remember that although the medication lessens your symptoms, it doesn’t prevent the STD from spreading to your partner. Talk to your healthcare professional about what you can due to reduce the chance transmission.

10. Genital warts from HPV

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common STD in the United States.

These warts may appear:

  • on your vulva, vagina, cervix, or anus
  • as white or skin-colored bumps
  • as one or two bumps, or in clusters

How to treat this

There isn’t a cure for genital warts. Genital warts may go away on their own without treatment, though.

However, some people may opt for removal to reduce discomfort. Removing the warts also decreases your risk of passing the infection to your partner.

The CDC, American Academy of Family Physicians, and more recommend that preteens receive an HPV vaccine before they’re sexually active. HPV is connected to cancer of the anus, cervix, and other areas of the body.

11. Lichen sclerosis

Lichen sclerosis is a rare skin condition. It causes thin, white patches to develop on the skin of the vagina. These patches are especially common around the vulva. They can cause permanent scarring.

Postmenopausal women are more likely to develop lichen sclerosis, but it can develop in women at any age.

How to treat this

If you suspect lichen sclerosis, see your doctor. They’ll prescribe a strong steroid cream to help reduce your symptoms. Your doctor will also need to watch for permanent complications like thinning of the skin and scars.

12. Menopause

As you approach menopause, the decrease in estrogen can cause many symptoms.

Vaginal burning is one of them. Intercourse may make the burning worse. Extra lubrication is often needed.

You may also experience:

  • fatigue
  • hot flashes
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • night sweats
  • reduced sex drive

How to treat this

If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of menopause, see your healthcare provider. They may prescribe estrogen supplements or other hormone therapies to help relieve your symptoms. These are usually available as creams, tablets, or vaginal inserts.

Hormonal supplements aren’t for everyone. Talk with your doctor to see what’s right for you.

When to see your doctor

Some causes for vaginal burning will get better on their own. However, if the burning persists and you begin developing other symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.

In many cases, your doctor will be able to prescribe a medication to cure the underlying condition. In others, your healthcare provider may work with you to develop a long-term treatment plan. 

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