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What Causes Vaginal Burning?

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Oct 08, 2018
Last Modified Date: Oct 08, 2018
Published Date: Apr 20, 2018

Vaginal burning is a very common issue among women and can stem from several causes. The term is used to describe a burning or stinging sensation in or around the vagina, that may be felt continuously or while urinating. Many causes of this problem are minor conditions that, while uncomfortable and annoying, are not serious or contagious. However, sometimes, vaginal burning can stem from conditions that are more concerning and/or can be passed on to others, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other types of infections. Here we’ll investigate the details of the more common causes of this problem.

Vaginal Burning: Non-Contagious Causes

woman bent over from vaginal burn Content provider: Creative CommonsNon-contagious causes of vaginal burning range from simple irritations to various types of infections. Among the most common of these are:

Noninfectious Vaginitis – Also commonly called contact dermatitis or simply skin irritation, this occurs when the skin in or around the vagina becomes inflamed, raw and/or itchy as a reaction to exposure to an irritant. Chemicals in products, such as tampons, menstrual pads, douches, deodorants, soaps and body washes are common causes. Underwear made from synthetic materials has also been found to spur irritation. Friction, associated with tight clothing or use of rough toilet tissue is a known irritant, as well as prolonged moisture in the vaginal area due to urine leakage or sweat.

Urinary tract infection (UTI) – A UTI is an infection, caused by bacteria, that can affect several different parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys and urethra. This can cause vaginal burning when urinating, as well as other symptoms, including frequent urges to urinate, pain during urination, blood in the urine, strong-smelling or cloudy urine, abdominal pain and a general feeling of being unwell or tired.

Bacterial vaginosis – This condition occurs when the balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina is disturbed, allowing unhealthy bacteria to take hold. This can lead to inflammation in and around the vagina, causing vaginal burning. Other symptoms of this infection include white or gray vaginal discharge, itching, and a strong fishy odor that is especially noticeable after sex.

Yeast infection – Also commonly called candidiasis or thrush, this type of infection is cause by an overgrowth of yeast, which is naturally present in the vagina. Too much yeast can cause vaginal burning and other symptoms, including itching, soreness, white or yellow clumpy vaginal discharge and pain while urinating or during sex.

Menopause – The very sensitive skin of the vaginal area can become thinner and drier as a woman goes through the change of life. This can cause the area to become irritated much more easily, leading to vaginal burning, especially during and after sex.

Vaginal Burning: STDs/Contagious Causeswoman bent over from vaginal burn Content provider: Creative Commons

Vaginal burning can also be a symptom of a variety of different sexually transmitted diseases. Among the STDs most commonly associated with vaginal burning are:

Trichomoniasis – Also commonly called trich, this infectious disease is caused by a parasite that passes from one person to another during sex. It is the most common STD in the U.S., and while many people have no symptoms with trichomoniasis, some women will experience vaginal burning, along with other symptoms, such as itching, redness and/or soreness in and around the vagina, discomfort, burning or pain during urination, and vaginal discharge that may be white, yellow or green and carry a strong fishy odor.

Chlamydia – This is a very common bacterial infection that is transmitted to others during sex. Many people have no symptoms with this STD, but among those that do, vaginal burning is common. Other symptoms that may come along with chlamydia infection include increased vaginal discharge, pain during urination and/or during sex, and bleeding during sex and/or between menstrual periods.

Gonorrhea – This is a bacterial infection as well, which occurs when a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae infects mucous membranes in areas that can include the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. This bacterium typically enters the body through sexual contact with an infected partner. Women who acquire this STD often show no symptoms, but among those who do see symptoms, vaginal burning is among the most frequent of them, along with painful urination, increased vaginal discharge and bleeding between menstrual periods.

Genital herpes – A very common viral STD, genital herpes is caused by a virus that is transmitted from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, most often during sex. Vaginal burning is a common symptom of genital herpes, as are itching or tingling in or near the vagina, vaginal pain, painful urination, flu-like symptoms, swollen glands and unusual vaginal discharge.

What to Do About Vaginal Burning

Vaginal burning is a very common issue, one that most women will experience at least once in their lifetimes. Most often, it is caused by the minor problems on the list above, but since it is a common symptom of STDs, UTIs and other potentially serious problems, it is wise to rule out these issues before making any assumptions.

Getting tested for common STDs is wise if you are a sexually active woman experiencing vaginal burning. It is a simple matter of getting some quick lab tests to check your blood and/or urine for signs of infection. You can get these tests through your doctor or have them done more confidentially and economically by purchasing them online. You should be getting tested regularly anyway to protect your sexual health, since STDs often produce few telltale signs. An STD screening is generally recommended once a year for sexually active individuals.

If STD tests are negative, seeing your doctor about your vaginal burning is your best next step. Of course, if those tests come back positive, seeing your doctor immediately for treatment is essential to protecting your health and that of any sexual partners.