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Burning Sensation: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Outlook

What is Burning Sensation?

A burning sensation is a type of pain that’s distinct from dull, stabbing, or aching pain in any part of the body.This sensation is often related to nerve problems. However, a wide variety of conditions can cause it, so it is important to seek medical advice and receive a correct diagnosis.

Many medical conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments are helpful in controlling the pain. You should seek treatment from your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about a burning sensation and suspect you have a health problem.

Causes of Burning Sensation

One of the most common reasons for burning pain is damage or dysfunction in the nervous system. This system is made up of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The CNS is the primary command center and includes the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists of the nerves that branch out from the brain and spine, connecting the rest of the body to the CNS. There are several different types of nerve and spine conditions that may cause burning pain as a symptom.

  • Central pain syndrome is a brain disorder that occurs when the nerves in the CNS are damaged. The condition can cause different types of painful sensations, including burning and aching.
  • Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that develops when a peripheral nerve is damaged, affecting its ability to function correctly. It may trigger a burning sensation. When at least two nerves or areas are affected, as can happen in leprosy, the condition is called mononeuritis multiplex.
  • Radiculopathy, also referred to as a pinched nerve in the spine, is a natural part of aging. It occurs when surrounding bones, cartilage, or muscle deteriorates over time. The condition may also be triggered by injury or trauma to the spine. Radiculopathy causes burning pain in some cases, but not all.
  • Cervical spondylosis is a result of aging. Wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the neck cause compression on the nerves. This leads to chronic neck pain along with a burning sensation.
  • Herniated disk occurs when a disk in the spine slips out of place. The disks protect the bones in the spinal cord by absorbing shock from daily activities, such as walking and twisting. When a disk moves out of place, it can compress a nerve and cause a burning pain. It may also cause numbness or muscle weakness.
  • Mononeuropathy is a group of conditions that can cause damage to a single nerve. The damage often results in a tingling or burning sensation in the affected part of the body. There are several types of mononeuropathy, including carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve palsy, and sciatica.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the CNS. Researchers believe that MS causes the body’s immune system to attack myelin, which is an insulating coating around nerve cells. Once myelin erodes, communication between nerve cells in the CNS is disrupted. When this happens, some parts of the body don’t receive instructions from the brain. This results in a variety of symptoms, including burning pain and spasms.
  • Neuralgia is burning and stabbing pain that occurs along a damaged or irritated nerve. The affected nerve may be anywhere in the body, but it’s most often in the face or neck.

Accidents, injuries, and traumas are other possible causes of burning sensations.

  • Frostbite occurs when skin and the tissue under it freeze. Before numbness sets in, frostbite produces a burning sensation.
  • Stings and bites from insects or animals that are venomous, such as snakes, produce a burning sensation at the affected area.
  • Whiplash is an injury that occurs when someone’s head moves back and forth very suddenly with great force. The injury is most common after a car accident. It can cause a burning pain and stiffness in the neck.

Certain nutritional deficiencies can also include burning pain as a symptom.

  • Beriberi is a deficiency in thiamine, or vitamin B-1.
  • Hypoparathyroidism is a rare disease characterized by an underproduction of parathyroid hormone, a hormone produced by glands in the neck. This can lead to a calcium deficiency.
  • Megaloblastic anemia may be related to a vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiency.
  • Pernicious anemia causes a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

There are other potential causes of a burning sensation in different parts of the body.

  • Canker sores are mouth ulcers or sores caused by a virus. They are usually very painful.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is chronic acid reflux, which occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus. The condition can cause a burning sensation in the esophagus, chest, or stomach.
  • Herpes simplex is a contagious viral infection that causes painful, tingling sores on various parts of the body, most commonly on the genitals or mouth.
  • Peripheral vascular disease (PVDs) is a blood circulation disorder that affects veins and arteries outside of the heart and brain. It often causes burning pain that gets worse when walking.
  • Rosacea is a skin condition that produces red, pus-filled bumps on various areas of the body. The affected areas can sometimes feel hot.
  • Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, occurs in people who were previously infected with the chickenpox virus. It usually appears as a burning, painful rash on one side of the body.

Diagnosis of Burning Sensation

Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing a persistent burning sensation. During your appointment, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask you about your pain. Be prepared to answer questions that may include:

  • the location of the pain
  • the severity of the pain
  • when the pain began
  • how often you experience the pain
  • any other symptoms you may be experiencing

Your healthcare provider will also order certain tests to try to identify the underlying cause of your burning pain. These diagnostic tests may include:

  • blood or urine tests to check for nutritional deficiencies and other conditions
  • imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, to examine bones and muscles in the spine
  • electromyography (EMG) to assess the health of nerves and muscles
  • nerve conduction velocity test to determine how quickly electrical signals move through a particular peripheral nerve
  • nerve biopsy to check for nerve damage in a particular part of the body
  • skin biopsy to examine a small sample of the affected skin under a microscope for the presence of abnormal cells

Treatment for Burning Sensation

Treatment for a burning sensation depends on the underlying cause. If your healthcare provider finds an underlying health condition, they will attempt to treat that particular condition first. Your course of treatment will vary depending on the problem. Treatment may include:

  • medications
  • surgery
  • physical therapy
  • dietary changes
  • lifestyle modifications

The burning pain can be controlled with anti-inflammatory medications, prescription painkillers, or over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You can also ask your healthcare provider about certain home remedies that may help treat your condition.

Outlook for Burning Sensation

Many conditions that cause a burning sensation have no cure, but treatments can make a big difference in reducing the pain and any other symptoms. You should see your healthcare provider so you can receive a diagnosis and treatment for the problem that may be causing your burning sensation. Make sure you stick with your treatment plan and attend any necessary follow-up appointments.

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