Uncomfortable, disruptive and virtually impossible to ignore, vaginal burning affects many women. This symptom most often occurs due to an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), a yeast infection or trichomoniasis (also known as simply trich). Allergic and irritant contact dermatitis are the leading noninfectious causes for this symptom. The optimal treatment for vaginal burning depends on the underlying cause. Home remedies can provide short-term relief. Curative treatment can also sometimes be accomplished at home but it's best to see your healthcare provider to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Sitz Bath Soaks
A sitz bath refers to soaking your bottom and genitals in warm water, which often eases burning, itchiness and soreness. You can purchase an inexpensive plastic sitz bath device at your local pharmacy. It sits on top the toilet bowl when the seat is lifted. Alternatively, you can sit in your bathtub. With either method, fill with about 3 inches of lukewarm water. Some people add baking soda to the water but this is not required. Do not add any soap or scented bath salts to the water. Soak your bottom in the sitz bath for 10 to 15 minutes, then pat the area dry. Applying a small amount of petroleum jelly to the area after drying can help soothe and protect the irritated skin. Repeat the sitz bath as often as necessary and/or convenient.
A cold compress applied to your genital area can temporarily ease burning as well as itchiness that often accompanies this symptom. You can use a wash cloth dampened with cold water or a store-bought cold pack that has been chilled in the refrigerator. A cold pack wrapped in a lightweight towel and placed on top of your underwear is often most comfortable as you might find intense cold uncomfortable when applied to this sensitive area. If the pack is still too cold, wrap it in another towel. Don't apply ice directly to your genital skin. Leave the cool compress or cold pack in place for 10 to 15 minutes per application. You can repeat as often as is necessary and/or convenient. Any towels used should be laundered before using them again.
Elimination of Irritants
Vaginal burning typically indicates inflammation of the genital skin. Avoiding further irritation of the area might help ease your discomfort. For the short term, it's best to wear loose-fitting pants, a dress or skirt rather than skinny jeans or other tight-fitting pants. Avoid douching and using feminine hygiene products, scented soap, bubble bath or scented bath salts. If possible, limit your use of moisture-retaining panty liners and pads. Organic liners and pads are typically less irritating as they're free of chemicals and fragrances, and the absorbent cotton is often more breathable than products made with synthetic materials. You might also find it helpful to launder your underclothes with a dye- and fragrance-free detergent, and avoid using bleach or fabric softener.
Severl over-the-counter creams and wipes are marketed for relief of vaginal itching and burning. These products typically contain either a topical numbing medicine or low-dose hydrocortisone. However, the numbing creams and wipes might aggravate rather than alleviate burning -- especially if you've been scratching the area. Hydrocortisone products might provide some temporary relief but should only be used short term. Additionally, neither of these types of products address the underlying cause of vaginal burning.
If you're fairly certain you have a vaginal yeast infection -- particularly if you've previously had such an infection diagnosed by your healthcare provider -- you might want to try home treatment with an over-the-counter antifungal product. These products are effective for most, but not all, vaginal yeast infections. See your doctor if your symptoms do not improve with over-the-counter vaginal yeast infection treatment.
Next Steps and Precautions
As many infectious and noninfectious conditions can cause vaginal burning, the best and safest course of action is to see your healthcare provider to determine the cause and optimal treatment. This is particularly important if you are pregnant, have diabetes, are at risk for a sexually transmitted infection or experience other symptoms, including:
- Increased, malodorous or bloody discharge unrelated to a period
- Fever or chills
- Abdominal, pelvic or flank pain
Depending on the cause of your vaginal burning, your provider might have suggestions for nonpharmaceutical therapies, such as yogurt or use of tea tree oil, that might be appropriate for you.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.