A burning sensation can affect almost any part of the body. It may feel like pins and needles, heat, or a sharp, prickly pain. It is important to seek medical advice and receive the correct diagnosis.

This article looks at some potential causes of burning sensations, when to contact a doctor, and what treatments are available.

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Photo by Cathy Scola

The location of the burning sensation can give a good indication of its cause.

For example, a feeling of burning in the muscles may be the result of an injury, while a burning sensation affecting the skin is likely the result of having come into contact with an allergen or an irritant.

Below are some of the most common locations of burning sensations and their possible causes.

While urinating

Feeling pain or a burning sensation while urinating is often a symptom of a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are common in women.

Other symptoms can include a fever and a strong, continual urge to urinate.

These infections can affect the bladder, kidneys, or urethra. Without treatment, UTIs can spread to other areas of the body. They can also harm the kidneys. Therefore, anyone who suspects that they have a UTI should contact a doctor as soon as they can.

UTIs are treatable with antibiotics.

The following can also cause a burning sensation during urination:

Skin

Throughout the day, the skin comes into contact with a range of possible irritants. The following sources of irritation can lead to a burning sensation:

  • sunburn
  • plants that sting or cause a rash, such as nettles, poison ivy, or poison sumac
  • insect bites and stings, such as from wasps, bees, and spiders
  • allergic reactions to lotions, perfumes, detergents, or other substances
  • very dry skin, particularly during the winter months
  • conditions such as eczema
  • anxiety or stress, particularly if a person is worried about skin conditions
  • nerve damage resulting from degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS)

An intense burning sensation on the skin could be due to cellulitis. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deepest layers of the skin. Antibiotics can treat cellulitis.

Cellulitis can spread quickly, however, so it is important that a person receives treatment right away. They should contact a doctor if a burning sensation is accompanied by:

  • a fever
  • swelling, warmth, or flushing of the skin
  • swollen and painful glands

Hands and feet

A burning sensation in the hands and feet may be due to one of the skin issues mentioned above.

However, a burning sensation in the fingers or toes could also be a symptom of nerve damage. The medical community refers to this as peripheral neuropathy.

Many people with diabetes may have peripheral neuropathy. A person with diabetes should speak with a doctor if they experience any of the following in the hands or feet:

  • pain
  • burning
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • weakness

Some other medical problems that may cause peripheral neuropathy include:

Raynaud’s phenomenon can also cause a burning sensation in the hands and feet. This condition causes the small arteries in these extremities to spasm and close when they have exposure to the cold.

Consequently, the fingers and toes receive less blood. They can turn white, and a person may feel a burning or stinging sensation, as well as numbness. This condition can also affect the nose, lips, and ears.

Symptoms tend to disappear when a person warms themselves up, thereby increasing their blood flow.

Muscles

A person may feel a burning sensation in certain muscles when lifting weights or doing other strenuous exercises. This is typically due to the release of lactic acid in the body.

A person may also feel this when they try a new exercise or start exercising more often. The soreness and burning sensation may be delayed. These symptoms are usually mild and tend to go away after a few days.

However, an intense burning sensation may indicate a muscle injury, such as a sprain or strain. If this feeling does not get better over time or spreads to several other muscles, a person may have a chronic condition, such as fibromyalgia.

Some other causes of a burning sensation in the muscles include myofascial pain syndrome and a herniated disk in the spine.

Mouth or throat

A burning sensation in the throat is often the result of an infection, such as strep throat. A person with strep throat may experience worsened pain when talking, and the area may feel raw and scratchy.

Strep throat is often accompanied by a fever, chills, and other cold- or flu-like symptoms. It is common in children but relatively uncommon in adults.

Acid reflux can also cause a burning sensation in the throat. The sensation may be intermittent, but it tends to follow an acidic meal. People with acid reflux may also experience a feeling of burning in the chest, belching, and stomach discomfort.

Burning sensations in the mouth and gums are often the result of irritation due to:

Canker sores can also cause this feeling. These are small, red, or white sores that often appear on the lips or tongue. They can be quite painful, but they typically go away on their own after several days.

Cold sores due to herpes can also cause a burning sensation in the mouth.

Genitals

A burning sensation on or around the genitals can result from skin irritation, such as that caused by getting soap in the vagina.

Tiny wounds that result from shaving or sexual intercourse can also lead to a temporary feeling of burning.

Infections are often responsible for a burning sensation in the genitals. For example, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV) commonly lead to a feeling of burning, itchiness, and unusual discharge. BV can also cause a fishy vaginal odor.

Genital burning can also result from a wide range of STIs.

It is usually safe to wait for a few days and see whether or not the burning sensation goes away. However, a person should contact a doctor if the feeling of burning persists.

Contact a doctor within 24 hours if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • a rapidly spreading rash
  • a fever
  • an intense burning sensation during urination
  • a burning sensation following a physical injury
  • other worrisome symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea or vomiting

Also, contact a doctor if a burning sensation:

  • keeps coming back
  • is associated with a chronic illness, such as liver failure or diabetes
  • gets worse in response to medication

Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, antibiotics can eliminate many STIs and other infections.

When no cure exists, treatment will involve managing the symptoms. Fibromyalgia, for instance, remains poorly understood and difficult to treat. In such cases, a doctor will develop a plan to alleviate pain and other symptoms.

People should work with a doctor to find a treatment that works, and they should report any negative reactions to medication.

If symptoms do not improve, it may be worth asking about other treatment options.

A burning sensation is often a temporary annoyance that disappears on its own over time. Rashes typically clear up in a few days, and canker sores rarely require medical treatment.

However, a person should speak with a doctor if their symptoms get worse or last longer than expected.

Anyone who suspects that they have an infection, such as cellulitis or a UTI, should contact a doctor as soon as possible. Without treatment, these infections can spread and become more severe.

Read the article in Spanish.