It isn’t normal, but it is very common
By Hannah Smothers
First things first: Burning in or around your vagina is not normal — meaning that it’s not something a healthy person should experience. But, according to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a gynaecologist in New York and author of The Complete A to Z For Your V, it is something most people feel at some point in their lives. It’s common, it’s treatable, and though Dweck said most women get to know their bodies and can figure out what the cause of the burning may be on their own, if burning persists or causes any stress or anxiety, you should see your doctor.
All of this gets a bit complicated, so Dweck said the easiest way to tackle burning in the vagina is to break it down into five categories based on cause: Infection, external irritation, hormones, vulvodynia, and skin conditions on the vulva. But no matter the cause, here’s all the information you need if you’re dealing with burning in or around your vagina.
- Burning caused by infection
Dweck said the two most common infections behind a burning feeling are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, or BV, which throws off your vaginal pH and can create a burning feeling. Otherwise, certain STIs (like chlamydia and gonorrhoea) may have burning as a symptom. And some people associate the burning feeling that accompanies a UTI with burning in the vagina, because the urethra and vagina are so close together on the body.
It’s important to note that, even though yeast infections are a common burning cause, you shouldn’t rush to the pharmacy for yeast infection medication at the first sign of burning. Unless you’re prone to yeast infections, have discussed this with your doctor, and know what the symptoms look like for you, treating something that’s not actually a yeast infection with that medication could only exacerbate an issue. The best thing to do if you suspect yeast is to see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis.
- Burning caused by external irritation
This is a big cause, especially for young, active women who are regularly running between the gym and work, or who skip showers or spend a long time in sweaty exercise clothes. Dweck said she sees a lot of women who skip the shower and use things like vaginal wipes or sprays in a pinch, and a lot of these can be an irritant to the vaginal pH, resulting in burning.
Another common irritant is maxi pads and pantyliners, particularly heavily scented ones. Even something as simple as a new laundry detergent can irritate the vulva, resulting in burning. Sensing a pattern here? Perfumes and scented products can do wild things to the pH of your vagina, and that can result in dryness, itching, and burning. Leave. It. Alone.
- Burning caused by hormonal changes and vulvodynia
Hormonal changes don’t directly cause burning, but Dweck said they will cause vaginal dryness. “Whether it’s due to pregnancy, menopause, perimenopause, or using hormonal birth control pills, some people are prone to a feeling of burning due to dryness,” Dweck said. Perimenopause and menopause might start causing dryness after your 40s, but if you suspect hormonal birth control may be the cause (like if you just started a new pill or had a hormonal IUD placed recently) your doctor will be able to work with you to return things back to normal and non-burny.
Vulvodynia gets tricky here, Dweck said, because it can be hard to find the cause. She said it’s characterised by pain and burning throughout the vagina, but it comes with a lot of its own causes. The bottom line is that if you’re experiencing burning or pain, you should see your gynaecologist. But because vulvodynia is hard to diagnose in some cases, don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to reach an answer. If one doctor can’t find the reason, see another.
- Burning caused by skin conditions
Technically, this fifth category applies to the vulva, or the external skin in the pubic area around the vagina. But because it’s a small area down there and burning in one place can feel like burning in another, Dweck said this is a cause that’s important to acknowledge.Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can make the skin itchy, and a lot of scratching can result in burning. These aren’t necessarily conditions that will affect the skin inside your vagina (a different sort of skin than is on your vulva and the rest of your body) but they can spread to your vulva. If this is happening to you, your gynaecologist or a dermatologist can prescribe something to help the dryness and itching, and nip any burning in the bud.