Vaginal Burning: 6 Main Causes & What To Do

Medical review: Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
February 2022

Allergies, rashes or skin irritation can cause a burning sensation, pain or itchiness in the vaginal area. These symptoms normally happen when the vaginal skin becomes irritated by underwear, hygiene products, laundry detergents and creams. However, the burning sensation may be a sign of an infection, such as candidiasis, vaginosis, trichomoniasis, or gonorrhea, especially when it occurs with other symptoms such as discharge or a foul smell.

When burning is felt after sexual intercourse, it may be a result of excess friction,or  an allergy to the condom or the partner’s semen. Burning may also be a sign of inadequate lubrication, which may happen if the woman is not sufficiently aroused during intercourse. Burning can also happen with hormonal changes or psychological disorders.

To differentiate between the different causes of a burning sensation in the vagina, the best thing to do is to visit a gynecologist who will assess you and likely order testing. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, but it may include antibiotics, vaginal ointments, hormonal therapy or antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medication.

The main causes for vaginal burning include:

1. Allergies and rashes

Some women may have increased sensibility to certain products and develop irritation in the vulva. Some products that generally cause this type of reaction are panty liners, sanitary pads, toilet paper, soaps, or even laundry detergent and conditioner, especially those that are heavily scented. Sometimes, even wearing tight clothes is enough to cause irritation in the area.

When the burning sensation appears after intercourse it may indicate allergy to the condom or the semen of the partner. However, you should also be aware of other symptoms such as discharge and foul smell, as these may indicate the beginning of a fungal or bacterial infection. 

What to do: It's important to try to identify and stop the use of materials that may be causing allergies. A visit to the gynecologist is also recommended, since it will be able to guide you in using medication that relieves symptoms, such as antihistamines or anti-inflammatory lotions.

2. Vaginal infection 

A very common type of vaginal infection is candidiasis, which is caused by overgrowth excessive of the Candida sp fungus in the vagina. Candidiasis, also known as a yeast infection, causes symptoms such as itchiness, burning and redness. Symptoms are usually more intense before menstruation and after intercourse, and thick white discharge.

Other common infections include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis, which causes yellow or green discharge, foul odor and burning
  • Trichomoniasis, which causes abundant discharge, itchiness and vaginal pain  
  • Sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea, genital herpes and chlamydia

What to do: You are advised to see your doctor to complete testing in order to identify the infection causing the burning. Medication will be prescribed in accordance with the infection that is diagnosed. Antibiotics are typically prescribed for treatment of bacterial infections, while antifungals are usually prescribed for treatment of yeast infections.

3. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes usually happen during menopause, but they can also happen following surgical removal of the ovaries, with radiation therapy, or with certain medication. Changes to hormone levels can cause the vaginal wall to become thinner and more sensitive, a situation that is known as atrophic vaginitis. 

These changes in female hormones can also contribute to a decrease in libido and vaginal lubrication during sexual contact, contributing to pain and burning sensation in the area. 

What to do: A visit to the gynecologist may help correct this type of hormonal changes or, at least, alleviate the discomfort. Treatment can be done with hormone therapy, use of lubricants or changing any type of medication that may be interfering with libido.

4. Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is a big contributor to vaginal pain during sexual contact. It causes uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, irritation, redness, burning or pricking in the genital region. Even though the origin of vulvodynia is not completely clear, this condition seems to be caused by dysfunctions in the pelvic floor, hormonal imbalances or alterations in nerve pathways. 

What to do: Vulvodynia does not have a cure nor does it have a clear-cut treatment plan. After completing an assessment, a gynecologist will recommend treatment based on the presenting symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • Topical medication such as lidocaine
  • Oral medication such as estrogen pills, antidepressants and anticonvulsants which relax muscles
  • Psychotherapy or sex counselling.

Learn more about vulvodynia and the treatment options.

5. Parasitic infection

A parasitic infection, also known as helminthiasis or a worm infection, can cause intense anal itching if it is not treated correctly,. As itching worsens and becomes more intense, it can extend to the vaginal area, causing pain and burning. Worm infections are transmissible from one person to another and it is more common in children.

What to do: Treatment usually involves the use of medication. A pinworm infection, for example, is typically completed with albendazole or mebendazole.

6. Skin problems

Although less frequent, there are also some skin problems that can affect the mucous membranes of the body, such as the mouth and the vagina, causing wounds and burning. Some of these illnesses include lichen planus, lichen simplex, pemphigus, or erythema multiforme.

What to do: Treatment of dermatologic conditions should be supervised by a dermatologist. It can include the use of medications to relieve itchiness, corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory lotions, or phototherapy, which consists of using artificial light to reduce skin inflammation.

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Atualizado por Tua Saude editing team, em February de 2022. Medical review por Dr. Sheila Sedicias - Gynecologist, em February de 2021.

References

  • MIRANDA, Júlia A. et al. Os três líquens: escleroso, plano e plano erosivo. FEMINA. Vol.42, n.2. 65-72, 2014
  • SOCIEDADE PORTUGUESA DE GINECOLOGIA. Revisão dos Consensos em Infecções Vulvovaginais. 2012. Available on: <http://www.spginecologia.pt/uploads/revisao_dos_consensos_em_infeccoes_vulgovaginais.pdf>. Access in 28 Nov 2019
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  • CLEVELAND CLINIC. Vaginitis. Available on: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9131-vaginitis>. Access in 28 Nov 2019
  • FEDERAÇÃO BRASILEIRA DAS ASSOCIAÇÕES DE GINECOLOGIA E OBSTETRÍCIA. Manual de Orientação Doenças Infectocontagiosas. 2010. Available on: <https://www.febrasgo.org.br/images/arquivos/manuais/Manuais_Novos/Doencas-_Infectocontagiosas.pdf>. Access in 21 Jan 2020
  • MONTEIRO, Marilene V.C. et al. Vulvodínia: diagnóstico e tratamento. FEMINA. Vol.43, n.2. 71-75, 2015
Medical review:
Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
Physician graduated in Mastology and Gynecology by UFPE in 2008 and member no. 17459 of CRM-PE, Brazil.