About one out of every five Americans carries an STI. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted
Having a burning sensation in your vagina isn’t normal and is a good indicator that something is wrong. The burning feeling can have several different causes, including inflammation of the vulva, vagina, or urinary tract. Distinguishing exactly where the burning sensation comes from makes diagnosing the cause challenging, although when the burning occurs can offer some clues.
Understanding the underlying cause of the burning sensation is essential to getting the right treatment. While it may be tempting to ignore the feeling and hope it goes away, the right thing to do is to seek testing and medical help to address the issue as soon as possible.
STD Causes of Female Genital Burning Sensation
Some causes of genital burning can be due to diseases transmitted during sexual intercourse. STDs are common, but most are easily treatable once diagnosed. Same-day STD testing has sped up the process, allowing you to get on the road to recovery and feeling better.
While all of the following STDs can result in a burning sensation in the vagina, they will have other symptoms that can help your healthcare practitioner narrow down the problem.
Herpes simplex virus 2, or HSV-2, is better known as genital herpes. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause genital herpes, while only HSV-1 causes oral herpes (cold sores). HSV-2 infections are lifelong, which means that once you have the condition, you can get painful flare-ups throughout your life.
HSV-2 is transmitted exclusively through genital contact, even if the person with the virus is asymptomatic at the time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 13% of people aged 15 – 49 live with HSV-2, though women have a higher infection rate than men.
Most HSV-2 infections are asymptomatic, meaning that you won’t even know that you have the virus. However, when symptoms do occur, you’ll notice. The main symptom of genital herpes is a spate of open sores (ulcers) around the anal and genital area. Other symptoms include:
- Body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
The first outbreak of symptoms is often the worst, but many people experience occasional recurrences throughout their lifetime. Antivirals can help control and reduce these symptoms, but they can’t cure the infection itself.
Trichomoniasis is an extremely common STD in the United States. The CDC estimates that there were over 2 million infections in 2018, but only 30% of people showed any symptoms. The infection is more prevalent in women than men and more common in older women than their younger counterparts.
You can get trich through sexual intercourse, where a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis colonizes the lower genital tract, including the vulva, vagina, and cervix. The most common symptoms of trichomoniasis include:
- Itching, burning, redness, and soreness
- Discomfort while urinating
- Change in vaginal discharge, often with a fishy smell
If left untreated, the infection can persist for years and can make it easier to catch other STDs. The only way to correctly diagnose trich is with an STD test, like those offered by Rapid STD Testing labs.
Chlamydia is another extremely common STD that can cause a burning sensation in the vaginal area. However, unlike other STDs, untreated chlamydia infections can have severe and lasting health consequences.
Not only does chlamydia lower your chances of getting pregnant, but it can also infect your newborn and cause ectopic pregnancies. Untreated chlamydia can even increase your chances of catching other STDs.
Common symptoms include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Burning feeling when urinating
- Bleeding between periods
The only way to confirm the presence of chlamydia is with a dedicated or 10-panel STD test. While chlamydia has a relatively long incubation, it will also appear on the test by the time you see symptoms.
Probably one of the best-known STDs, gonorrhea is extremely common and can infect the rectum, genitals, and throat. Younger people have a higher incidence of the infection, but it can affect anyone having any type of unprotected sex.
Most women who have gonorrhea don’t see any symptoms, which is why it’s so important to do regular testing at Rapid STD Testing or any other lab if you’re in an at-risk group. It’s possible to transmit the disease even while asymptomatic, and testing can help you get treatment and stop the spread.
Common symptoms of gonorrhea include:
- Burning or discomfort while urinating
- Bleeding between periods
- Increased vaginal discharge
It’s never a good idea to ignore a burning feeling in your vagina. It can indicate the presence of an STD, which, if left untreated, can dramatically impact your reproductive health.
Other Causes of Burning Feeling in the Vagina
Your vulva and vagina are sensitive ecosystems, and STDs aren’t the only disruptive things that can cause itching and burning. If you’ve done a rapid STD test and seen no results, it’s likely that your burning stems from another source.
Your vagina has a complex bacterial ecosystem that keeps your vaginal pH low to prevent fungal and excessive bacterial growth. Bacterial vaginosis is when this delicate balance shifts, leading to the growth of unwanted bacteria.
While these shifts may be natural, certain things can make them worse, including:
- Sexual intercourse
- Weakened immune system
Bacterial vaginosis has several symptoms, including:
- Burning and discomfort while urinating
- Fishy vaginal odor
- Vaginal and vulval itching
- White, gray, or green discharge
In most cases, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause any complications and will generally clear up on its own. However, persistent infections can lead to serious consequences, including:
- Higher risk of developing STDs
- Preterm births
- Pelvic inflammatory disease that leads to infertility
Most women will develop a yeast infection, or candida, at least twice in their lifetime. The yeast that causes candida occurs naturally in your vagina, but certain bacteria keep its growth in check. If the ecosystem gets disrupted, it can give candida a chance to take over and grow wild.
Simple yeast infections will often clear up on their own, but complicated infections may need medical attention. Symptoms of a complicated yeast infection include:
- Four or more yeast infections in a year
- Extensive redness or itching that leads to sores
- Constant burning sensation
Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an extremely common source of vaginal burning. The main cause of UTIs is bacteria that have found their way into the normally sterile urinary system, where they start to cause inflammation and infection.
- Burning during urination
- Frequent need to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Abnormal urine color
- Pain in the pelvic area
Menopause can dramatically affect vaginal health. Changing hormone levels can cause vaginal dryness that may escalate into vaginal burning, especially during and after sex.
Luckily, the symptoms of menopause are temporary and can be lessened by hormone therapy and other treatments.
Your vagina is a mucous membrane and is as susceptible to irritants as your nose, throat, and eyes. Some products can cause an allergic reaction that manifests as a burning sensation.
Some common irritants include:
- Scented soaps
- Feminine hygiene sprays
The best way to avoid the burning sensation is to avoid the irritant. You may need to try spot testing to identify potential culprits. Luckily, condom makers have started making hypoallergenic condoms that don’t contain latex or rubber, and it’s always a good idea to keep harsh detergents and scents away from the vulva.
Symptoms That Come With Burning Inside the Vagina
In most cases, a burning sensation in the vagina isn’t the only symptom that something’s going on.
Typically, burning indicates a disruption in how the vagina and reproductive system function. Some of the common symptoms that come with burning include:
- Additional discharge
- Smelly discharge
- Strange colored discharge, including green, grey, and white
- Bleeding in between periods
- Excessive sensitivity and redness
Diagnosing the cause of burning is difficult because most STDs and non-STD sources of vaginal burning share the same symptoms. Both chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis result in a fishy-smelling discharge, burning while urinating, and spotting between periods.
Since some conditions, like yeast infections, affect almost all women, it’s tempting to wait for the issue to go away. While there are many over-the-counter options, it’s always a good idea to see a medical practitioner if the burning persists.
Since so many STDs have common symptoms, it makes it easy for people to come up with made-up diseases. Blue waffle disease is a fictitious STD that supposedly results in vaginal burning and excess discharge.
That’s why it's so important to have regular STD testing, especially if you’re in a high-risk category. Rapid STD Testing recommends a full-panel STD test every few months for people with multiple sexual partners.
When Does It Become Life-Threatening?
Vaginal burning can have a wide range of causes, making it difficult to know when to take it seriously. It’s easy to ignore a bit of burning and hope it goes away without visiting a doctor. However, while some causes are relatively benign, other causes of burning can have serious health implications.
Sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia can travel up into the Fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can have huge implications on your reproductive health. PID can cause infertility, and it also raises the risk of preterm births and ectopic pregnancies. The longer these STDs remain in your body, the more damage they will do.
An untreated UTI can lead to kidney disease. Repeated bladder infections raise the risk of acute renal failure, especially if you ignore the early warning signs.
Many STDs can also increase your risk of meningitis (brain infection) or increase the risk of causing meningitis in your unborn baby. Candida can cause meningitis in immunocompromised people, while the herpes simplex virus can cause viral meningitis.
What’s worse is that many people don’t develop symptoms such as burning or abnormal discharges while having one of these devastating conditions. You can have an STD or yeast infection that can cause severe illness in the future and not know it. That’s why testing is essential.
Tips to Prevent Further Complications and Relieve Discomfort or Burning Around the Vaginal Area
In many cases, vaginal irritation will calm down on its own. Here are some of our top tips to keep these minor irritations, allergies, and infections at bay. Note that they are for informational purposes only and don’t constitute professional medical advice.
- Avoid scented hygiene products. Many of these products, like douches and feminine sprays, can actually increase smelly discharge and irritation due to their allergenic compounds.
- Wash your pubic area with unscented or mild soap and water once per day. Don’t ever use soap on your inner vulva or vagina.
- Don’t use a vaginal douche, ever.
- Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.
- Wear clean cotton underwear and avoid synthetic fabrics.
- Use condoms during sexual intercourse to lower your risk of STDs.
- If you have vaginal dryness, always use a water-based lubricant before sex.
- Avoid having sex until your burning feeling goes away.
However, there are also times when it’s better to see a healthcare professional about a burning sensation in your vagina. If your symptoms persist or get worse after a couple of days, seek professional medical advice.
Even if you don’t have a serious problem, the healthcare worker will be able to prescribe the necessary treatment that will lessen your discomfort and get you on the road to recovery. Leaving these issues unaddressed will only make dealing with the problem harder in the long term.
Medical treatments of vaginal burning include:
- Treatment of STDs and bacterial vaginosis with the relevant antibiotic (or antiparasitic, in the case of trich)
- Antifungal creams or suppositories (or possibly oral antifungal drugs) that treat candida and other yeast infections
- Estrogen-containing creams or hormone therapy to lessen menopause-related itching and burning
- Steroid creams to relieve itching and soothe burning in the affected area while the other treatments do their job
Claim Your Life Back with Testing
STDs will often cause vaginal burning and excessive discharge. The best way to deal with a burning sensation in your vagina is to identify the cause, which will include testing. If you suspect that you may have an STD, get in touch with Rapid STD Testing and learn about our selection of tests today!