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Women are prone to experiencing problems like burning, itching and irritation in the vagina. Since it is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, it is important to understand the causes of problems and address them immediately. Burning can be caused due to exposure to irritants and chemicals, infections contracted through bacteria, yeast or transmitted sexually, UTIs or menopause. Common symptoms associated with burning include pain, redness or tenderness, discharge, abnormal bleeding and an unpleasant odour. The symptom is typically diagnosed for the underlying condition using a pelvic examination and blood or imaging tests to examine for other diseases.

Treatment for burning sensation in the vagina may include medication for infections, hormonal therapy, and simple self-care techniques that can bring relief. Improved sanitary care forms the basis for prevention of the condition, including using non-scented products, washing the vagina gently, avoiding synthetic clothing and drinking plenty of water. The possible risks associated with burning in the vagina include increased chances of contracting HIV, passing of infection to the baby in pregnant women and complications of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

  1. What is vaginal burning
  2. Vaginal burning symptoms
  3. Vaginal burning causes and risk factors
  4. Prevention of vaginal burning
  5. Diagnosis of vaginal burning
  6. Vaginal burning treatment
  7. Vaginal burning prognosis and complications

Vaginal burning is among the most commonly experienced discomfort in women. There can be various types of discomfort in the vagina – some include irritation, pain and soreness. Vaginal burning may be an acute burning sensation or a pricking feeling in the vagina or the vulva and clitoris. It may sometimes be accompanied by itching. This may be an experience, which subsides spontaneously. However, if the feeling persists, it is important to seek medical help since the underlying condition may worsen.

While vaginal burning is a specific symptom in itself and can indicate a more complicated disorder, there are several tell-tale signs that you can look for when you experience a burning sensation and are unsure of what it may be. While the burning may be experienced solely, there may also be other accompanying symptoms which you can watch for, like:

  • Redness, swelling or abrasion.
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina.
  • A distinct smell from the vagina and its secretions.
  • Pain or cramps in the vaginal region.
  • Painful urination
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods.
  • Fish-like odour typically experienced after sex.

Causes

In some cases, vaginal burning may be due to a simple lack of hydration or sensitiveness to the underpants fabric. However, there are more serious problems, which could be showing themselves through this symptom. Here are some causes of burning in the vagina.

  • Irritation 
    Sometimes vaginal burning is simply a reaction of the vagina experiencing an irritation of some kind. It could be from synthetic or tight-fitting clothes and underwear, perfumes and other chemicals in soap, abrasion or friction of some kind or a minor injury. It can also be experienced because of residual parts of tampons or tissue from sanitary napkins remaining in or around the vagina.
  • Bacteria
    Certain types of bacteria in the vagina may cause irritation and itching. All women have harmless bacteria present in the vagina, which is normal and helps maintain the pH of the vagina. When harmful bacteria grow, or if the normal bacteria present in the vagina grow into unusually large numbers, a burning sensation may develop. It is important to treat this immediately as it could cause STDs. Bacterial infections are most commonly experienced in women between the ages of 15 to 45 years.
  • Yeast
    Yeast infections in the vagina may cause burning as one among the many symptoms. This condition is commonly called as thrush. Thrush can be contracted in women who are pregnant, taking antibiotics or oral contraceptive pills, and have diabetes.
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
    Burning is the most commonly experienced symptom in those who have UTIs. While this is easy to treat, the chances of recurrence are high.
  • Trichomoniasis
    A parasite, Trichomonas, usually passed on to the partner while having sex, causes a common infection called Trichomoniasis and is the reason for burning sensation in the vagina, along with discomfort and itching.
  • Gonorrhoea
    Gonorrhoea is a commonly transmitted infection in those between the ages of 15 to 25. The bacterial infection usually spreads into the cervix, fallopian tubes and uterus.
  • Chlamydia
    While chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection, burning and itching make the most obvious symptoms; it is otherwise silent and shows no other signs.
  • Genital Herpes
    This is contracted through someone who is infected. Herpes affects a large percentage of the female population and is among the most common reasons for experiencing vaginal burning.
  • Menopause
    Women who are either approaching menopause or already going through it may experience vaginal burning as a result of hormonal imbalance. While not every menopausal woman may experience burning, it is among the common physiological symptoms that are felt by menopausal women.

Risk Factors

Here are some factors that predispose a person to experience vaginal burning.

  • Untreated bacterial infections.
  • UTIs spreading to the kidneys, urethra and bladder if untreated.
  • Poor personal hygiene.

Maintaining hygiene and some other pointers can help keep trouble at bay and prevent vaginal burning. These are:

  • Use unscented creams, napkins, bath foams and sprays around the vaginal area. Scented products have a higher amount of chemicals, which may irritate the skin.
  • The best way to clean the genital area is using clean and cold water. Avoid using too many products or washing too frequently as it can dry the vaginal area and cause burning. The body has its own lubricating mechanism and using too many intimate care products may cause disbalance of the vaginal pH and healthy bacteria that inhabit the vagina.
  • Avoid using soaps and chemicals to clean or opt for gentle feminine care products. Do not use regular soaps and gels to clean intimate areas.
  • Always use toilet paper from front to back while cleaning the intimate areas.
  • Avoid using synthetic underwear, and ensure you change your underwear frequently. When washing your underwear, use only a mild non-scented detergent.
  • Ensure your partner uses condoms during intercourse to prevent STDs.
  • Stay away from sexual intercourse if you experience even minimal burning.
  • If you have dryness, burning sensations could follow soon after. Use a mild vaginal moisturiser to keep the vagina hydrated, and use a lubricant before having sex.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dryness and irritation, which can, in turn, cause burning.
  • Preventing relapses of UTIs by keeping the body clean and hydrated, and maintaining high levels of sanitisation. 

A doctor will typically conduct a pelvic examination. This is usually followed by some simple blood or urine tests to confirm the diagnosis. A sample of the vaginal discharge may also be taken for examination in the case of suspected infections.5 Imaging tests are typically not needed to diagnose the cause of vaginal burning unless routine treatment doesn’t yield satisfactory results.

There are several courses of treatment that may be sought depending upon how the problem manifests and what the accompanying symptoms or conditions are. Women should seek help if the burning lasts for a prolonged period of time and doesn’t go away in spite of using home remedies. The courses of treatment may include:

  • A course of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections like chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
  • An antifungal cream and oral medication for fungal infections like thrush.
  • Antibiotics and repeat tests in the case of UTIs.
  • Oral metronidazole or tinidazole for trichomoniasis.
  • Anti-viral medication for herpes.
  • Hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women.

Lifestyle management

Pointers to manage vaginal burning include:

  • Avoid touching or scratching where burning is experienced. It will help the wound heal quickly.
  • Application of ice packs to help soothe the area.
  • Using petroleum jelly can also help soothe the area and reduce burning.

Prognosis

In most cases, burning sensations in the vagina are likely to lessen or go away with some simple self-care. It is only in some severe cases that medical attention is needed. Those who maintain a good self-care regimen and have high standards of hygiene are less likely to suffer from the condition. Simply treating the underlying cause can help alleviate burning sensations almost immediately.

Complications

There are a few complications that can be experienced when the underlying problem causing vaginal burning is not treated. These may include:

  • Complications arising from STDs and bacterial infections, such as worsening of the condition.
  • Transmission of infection from a pregnant mother to the child.
  • An increased risk of contracting HIV in those suffering from trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
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References

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet
  3. Office on Women's Health [Internet] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Vaginal yeast infections.
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet
  5. Office on Women's Health [Internet] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Vaginal infections.
  6. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Vaginal thrush
  7. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Vaginal itching and discharge - adult and adolescent
  8. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Vaginal Diseases
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