Vaginal burning is an abnormal burning or stinging irritation that sometimes occurs during urination. The stinging or burning is usually caused when urine comes in contact with vaginal lesions or areas of the genital region, such as the vulva or labia, that are inflamed. Vaginal burning can also be a sign of an STD and is often the first noticeable sign that an infection is present.
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Vaginal burning can be a constant irritation or can occur intermittently when irritants are introduced to the vaginal region (such as during intercourse or when clothing or other objects come in contact with the area). Burning can begin suddenly or gradually grow in intensity over a period of time. In some cases, vaginal burning goes away on its own, but in cases where the burning is caused by an STD, medication is required to treat the burning.
An internal burning or painful sensation during urination is usually a sign of a bladder or urinary tract infection or an allergic reaction. Non-sexual causes are the same as external burning, but can also include trauma to the vagina. In rare cases, an allergic reaction to semen can cause internal vaginal burning.
Herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), known as genital herpes, is the most common STD associated with vaginal burning. An outbreak of genital herpes causes clusters of small, painful bumps that eventually burst and ooze a clear fluid. While most outbreaks include bumps on the external vaginal area, lesions can also form inside the vagina, where they may go unnoticed. The external lesions may become painful when urine, skin, or clothing come in contact with the bumps, while internal lesions may cause a burning pain during intercourse or when a tampon is inserted.
Trichomoniasis, an STD caused by a protozoan parasite, can cause irritation and inflammation of the vaginal skin, which in turn can cause vaginal burning. The bacterial STDs gonorrhea and chlamydia are both associated with vaginal burning. Chlamydia is the most commonly occurring STD among women and often occurs simultaneously with gonorrhea in what is called a “co-infection.” Both infections can be cured when treated with antibiotics, often in a single dose.
Getting tested for STDs is the only way to be sure of the cause of vaginal burning or irritation. Because many STDs don’t show symptoms, an infection could go unnoticed and progress into a more serious condition with long-lasting side effects. Frequent STD testing is the only way for sexually active women to be completely sure of their STD status and prevent untreated infections.