Urethral Irritation: 7 Causes & How Long Does it Last?
Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.
Urethral irritation is an annoying and painful condition. The two major causes of urethral irritation are chemicals (such as soap) and infections.
Today, you will learn the main causes of urethral pain and irritation and how long they last.
Main causes of urethral irritation:
- Chemicals such as soap, bubble baths, feminine hygiene products, etc.
- Urethritis (infection) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia infections.
- Urinary tract infections (cystitis and pyelonephritis).
- Urethral trauma.
- Skin infection in the area surrounding the urethral opening.
- Stone passage through the urethra.
- Urethral obstruction, as with urethral strictures.
1. Chemical causes or urethral irritation.
Nonspecific or chemical urethritis is a common cause of urethral pain and irritation. It is often caused by exposure of the urethra to irritant chemicals such as:
- Bubble Baths.
- Spermicide-coated condoms and diaphragms.
- Contraceptive gels.
- Feminine hygiene products (especially with overuse or in the presence of allergy to these products.
- Urethral pain or irritation more at the urethral opening.
- The irritation is often persistent with and without urination.
- Redness around the urethral opening.
- In severe cases, swellings, ulcers, scales, or bullae are found around the urethral opening.
- Severe burning sensation during urination.
- No fever, no turbid urine, & no urgency to pee.
Also, applying a petroleum-based gelly (as Vaseline®) topically around the urethra before bathing or douching will improve the pain.
It also prevents further irritation of the urethra.
How long does it last?
Urethral irritation often lasts as long as it is exposed to irritant chemicals. Once the irritant substance is identified and eliminated, the irritation should go away within a few days.
2. Infections of the urethra (urethritis).
Urethritis (urethral infections) is the most common cause of burning urethral pain or irritation.
- Neisseria gonorrhea: the leading cause of urethritis. It is a sexually-transmitted disease.
- Chlamydia Trachomatis: the most common non-gonococcal cause of urethritis.
- Tricholoma vaginalis (a protozoal infection).
- Herpes simplex virus urethritis.
- H. influenza bacteria.
- Candida species (fungal infection) and others.
The symptoms vary depending on the causative organism.
- Urethral pain and irritation (with or without urination).
- Urethral discharge:
- In gonorrhea: the discharge is in the form of a greyish or greenish thick pass coming out from the urethra (without urination).
- Other infection may also cause discharge from the urethra but is less prevalent.
- Burning sensation during urination (dysuria).
- Painful ulcers around the urethra.
- Itching around the urethra.
- Redness, inflammation, or swelling of the glans (in males).
How long does urethritis last?
With a proper diagnosis of the cause and antibiotic treatment, the infection and urethral irritation will resolve within a few days or a week.
The discharge will often disappear earlier than the pain. However, the pain intensity starts to decline immediately after the first dose of antibiotics. Then, the urethral irritation disappears completely within 4-7 days in most cases.
3. UTI (cystitis).
Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria traveling from the outside to the urinary bladder or kidneys (through the urethra).
The most common cause of infection is bacteria such as E. coli. UTIs commonly affects females more than males (due to shorter and wider urethra).
- Acute cystitis (the most common form of UTI):
- Dysuria (burning sensation in the urethra during urination).
- Tubid urine.
- Slight blood in the urine.
- Supra-pubic pain (bladder pain).
- Persistent urge to pee (peeing a small amount of urine each time with a burning sensation).
- The sudden severe urge to pee (urine urgency).
- Complicated UTI (pyelonephritis or kidney infection).
- All the above symptoms plus:
- Flank pain.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Turbid urine.
- Pelvic or perineal pain.
How long does a UTI last?
In most cases of urinary tract infection, dysuria or urethral irritation often improves within one week of treatment.
However, the symptoms may persist for longer due to the higher incidence of antibiotic resistance.
4. Passage of a stone through the urethra.
Small stones formed in the kidney or the urinary bladder may pass with urine to the outside. Also, gravels (tine stones) commonly pass through the urethra, causing severe urethral irritation.
Symptoms of passing a stone:
- Severe flank pain.
- Bladder (supra-pubic) pain.
- Burning pain in the urethra (severe irritation) during urination.
- Turbid urine.
- The bloody stain of the urine (the passing stone may cause injury to the inner wall of the ureter, bladder, or urethra, leading to the bloody stain of urine).
- You may also see the stone or gravel during their passage.
How long does irritation from stones last?
The painful urination (dysuria) and urethral irritation due to stone passage is often temporary and rapidly resolve as soon as the stone passes.
However, urethral irritation and dysuria may last longer if there is an associated urinary tract infection or significant injury of the urethral lining during the stone passage.
5. Urethral obstruction.
Partial obstruction of the urethra may result in chronic irritation and dysuria during urination.
Urethral obstruction can be due to:
- Urethral stricture (narrowing), especially in males.
- Labial adhesions (Especially in young females).
- Prostatitis and prostatic enlargement in males.
- Impacted stone in the urethra.
- Trauma to the urethra.
- Difficult urination (weak urine stream).
- Dysuria and urethral irritation or pain.
- A sense of incomplete evacuation of urine.
- Frequent urge to pee.
- Spraying of the urine stream.
- Straining to pass urine.
- In many cases, UTIs may occur.
How long does pain from ureteric narrowing last?
Urethral strictures are often chronic and may cause prolonged urethral irritation. On the other hand, obstruction due to stones or trauma is often temporary and resolves within days or weeks.
6. Urethral Trauma.
Trauma to the urethra may also cause severe irritation and pain. It is not uncommon. Urethral trauma can range from mild injuries during sexual activities or minor trauma to extensive injuries from major trauma or pelvic injuries (reference).
In both cases, continuous irritation and difficult urination are present. Severe trauma also may cause bloody urine.
In cases of urethral trauma, the irritation may continue for hours, days, or weeks depending on the injury’s nature, type, and severity.
7. Skin or vaginal diseases involving the urethra.
The external part of the urethra can be affected by skin disease, leading to severe irritation.
Common causes include:
- Varicella (chickenpox).
- Contact irritant dermatitis.
- Behcet syndrome (is an immune-mediated multisystem disease that may involve the skin around the urethra.
- Virginal vaginal ulcers: ulcers in the vaginal cavity in preteen girls that occur without unknown cause (reference).
- And many other causes.
- Written by a doctor.
MD, Internal Medicine and Nephrology specialist.
Dr. Esraa A. MagidAuthor