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Vaginal Burning: 6 Main Causes and What To Do

Allergies, rashes or skin irritation can cause a burning sensation, pain or itchiness in the vaginal area. These normally happen when the skin reacts to underwear, hygiene products, clothes conditioners and creams. However, the burning sensation may also indicate an infection, such as candidiasis, vaginosis, trichomoniasis, or gonorrhea, especially when it comes with other symptoms such as discharge or a foul smell.

When it occurs after sexual intercourse, the burning sensation may be caused by excess friction during sexual intercourse, an allergy to the condom or the partner’s semen, or it may indicate a decrease in lubrication of the genitalia, which may happen if the woman is not sufficiently aroused during intercourse, or it may also happen due to hormonal or psychological changes.

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 examine the area and carry out some tests. Treatment varies in accordance to the cause, and it may include antibiotics, vaginal lotions, hormonal resetting or antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medication.

Vaginal Burning: 6 Main Causes and What To Do

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 pantyliners, sanitary pads, toilet paper, soaps, or even clothes detergent and conditioner, especially the ones that have more heavily scented. Sometimes, even wearing tight clothes is enough to cause irritation in the area.

When the burning sensation happens 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 an infection from fungi or bacteria. 

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 an excessive increase in the Candida sp fungus in the vaginal microbiota. Candidiasis causes symptoms such as itchiness, burning sensation and redness, which are usually more intense before menstruation and after intercourse, and thick white discharge.

Other forms of infection are bacterial vaginosis, which causes yellow discharge, foul smell and burning sensation in the vagina; trichomoniasis, which causes abundant discharge, itchiness and pain the vaginal area; and other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, genital herpes and chlamydia.

What to do: it's advised to look for a gynecologist who can identify the correct cause for the burning sensation and prescribe medication in accordance to the microorganism that is causing the infection.

3. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes usually happen during menopause, but they can also happen as a result of the ovaries being removed, radiotherapy being carried out or certain medication being administered, which can cause the vaginal wall to be thinner and more sensitive, a situation that is known as atrophic vaginitis. 

These changes in female hormones can also contribute to a decrease in sexual desire 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, normally through hormonal resetting, lubricants or changing any type of medication that can be hindering sexual desire.

Vaginal Burning: 6 Main Causes and What To Do

4. Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is a major cause of vaginal pain during sexual contact, as it causes uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, irritation, redness, burning sensation or pricking in the genital region. Even though the causes are not completely clear, this condition seems to be caused by dysfunctions in the pelvic floor, hormonal imbalances or alteration in nerve pathways. 

What to do: after doing an assessment, the gynecologist will adjust the treatment in accordance to the symptoms, as there is no definitive treatment. Treatment options include applying topical medication such as lidocaine, oral medication such as pills with estrogen, antidepressants and anticonvulsants which relax muscles, as well as psychotherapy or sex counselling. Learn more about vulvodynia and the treatment options.

5. Helminthiasis

An infection through the pinworm can cause intense itchiness in the anal area and if it is not treated correctly, and it becomes more intense, it can extend to the vaginal area, causing pain and burning sensation. Also known as enterobiasis, this helminthiasis is transmissible from one person to another and it is more common in children.

What to do: treatment for pinworm infection is done with medication such as albendazole or mebendazole, that need to be prescribed by a doctor.

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 sensation. 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. This includes the use of medications to relieve itchiness, corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory lotions or phototherapy, which consists in using artificial light to reduce skin inflammation.

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Bibliography

  • 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
  • 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
  • CLEVELAND CLINIC. Vaginitis. Available on: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9131-vaginitis>. Access in 28 Nov 2019
  • MONTEIRO, Marilene V.C. et al. Vulvodínia: diagnóstico e tratamento. FEMINA. Vol.43, n.2. 71-75, 2015
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