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Diseases & Conditions > Menopause

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The Causes of Vaginal Burning

Sheryl Kraft

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Although burning in and around your vagina is not normal, it's not uncommon. At some point in your life, it's likely you've had the unpleasant experience, too.

Vaginal burning can make certain activities difficult and can even be debilitating, but it is treatable once you figure out what's causing it. See your health care provider to make sure you get the correct diagnosis, because symptoms may be similar for conditions that require different treatment.

Here are some likely culprits:

1. Yeast infection

Also known as candidiasis or thrush, an infection in your vagina that's caused by bacteria can also cause soreness, pain during urination or sex, and a vaginal discharge.

Yeast infections can affect any woman but are more likely if you're pregnant or have diabetes or a compromised immune system. Antibiotics, because they destroy protective bacteria, can also increase the risk of a yeast infection, as can hormonal forms of contraception.

To help prevent yeast infections while taking antibiotics, take probiotic supplements, eat yogurt, steer clear of foods high in sugar and avoid tight-fitting clothing (which can trap moisture). Read more about how summer can increase yeast infections.

2. Urinary tract infection

If your vagina burns when you urinate, you might have a urinary tract infection—or UTI—which occurs when parts of the urinary tract, such as the bladder, urethra and kidneys, become infected. Burning is not the only symptom of a UTI: Your urine may be cloudy or smelly or contain blood, or you may experience pain in your lower abdomen or feel tired or under the weather.

Antibiotics are generally prescribed to treat UTIs, which will usually up after about a five-day course.

3. Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

The most common vaginal infection in women between ages 15 and 44, BV is caused by an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria in the vagina, affecting its normal balance. Besides burning, other symptoms include pain and itching, a white or gray vaginal discharge and a strong, fishy odor (especially after sex).

BV is treated with antibiotics.

4. Irritation

Your vagina can get irritated when it comes into direct contact with things like soaps, fabrics, toilet paper, douches, feminine hygiene sprays or cleansers, medications or perfumes. Known as contact dermatitis, these irritants can also cause stinging, severe itching, rawness and pain.

5. Trichomoniasis

This is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. Also known as trich, it's caused by a parasite that passes from one person to another during sexual intercourse. Only about 30 percent of people with trich experience symptoms, which, in addition vaginal burning, include redness or soreness, uncomfortable urination, itching and a vaginal discharge that is white, clear, yellow or green with a fishy odor.

Trich is treated with the oral medications metronidazole or tinidazole.

6. Gonorrhea

This STD, most commonly occurring in people between ages 15 and 24, is caused by bacteria transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. The bacteria can infect mucous membranes like the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. Besides vaginal burning, other symptoms include vaginal bleeding between periods, painful urination and a vaginal discharge.

Gonorrhea is treatable with two types of drugs given at the same time: an injection of ceftriaxone and oral azithromycin.

7. Chlamydia

This infection, usually transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person, is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. There are usually no symptoms, which is why it's known as a "silent" infection. When symptoms do occur, they may also include increased vaginal discharge, bleeding during sex and between periods and pain and urination during sex.

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.

8. Genital herpes

This common STD, caused by two types of viruses, is spread during vaginal or oral sex with an infected person. More than one of every six people between ages 14 and 49 have genital herpes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaginal burning is just one symptom; others may include swollen glands, pain in the vaginal area (especially during urination), feeling like you have the flu, or painful sores or blisters.

Symptoms of genital herpes can be treated, but not cured, with antiviral medication.

9. Menopause

A drop in estrogen levels can cause your vagina to become dry, which leads to burning, itching and irritation. Swap soaps for clean water, which should be adequate for cleansing your vagina, says the North American Menopause Society. It also suggests using white, unscented toilet tissue and fragrance-free detergents. Various lubricants, moisturizers and vaginal estrogen products can also help relieve your symptoms.

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