Having a constant itch anywhere on your body can be incredibly frustrating. But when your vagina itches, it’s a little trickier to deal with. Experiencing irritation down there is distracting, awkward, and uncomfortable, and unlike having a prickling on your arm or leg, you typically have to care for an itchy vagina in private.

What you might be dealing with is a classic case of vaginal dryness. It’s totally normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you have to continue to live with — there are many ways to treat and prevent vaginal dryness. To help conquer the unpleasant situation, we talked to Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a physician at One Medical in Phoenix. Below, she breaks down everything there is to know about why you’re dry down there.

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What causes vaginal dryness?

According to Dr. Bhuyan, the most common cause of vaginal dryness is a drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen is a hormone that helps keep your vagina tissue healthy and lubricated, per the Mayo Clinic, and reduced levels commonly occur when a woman goes through menopause, breastfeeding, or childbirth.

That being said, there are other factors that can cause dryness down there. Certain medications like allergy meds or antidepressants can cause dryness. Hormonal birth control can also contribute to the problem, Planned Parenthood notes. If you are on any of those and suffering from the symptom, make sure to tell your doctor. They can figure out a different medication for you that could help clear up the problem. Smoking can also be a cause of vaginal dryness, so if you are a smoker, consider that another major reason to quit.

There are some other outside factors as well. While there is no evidence of any specific foods causing dryness, Dr. Bhuyan notes that alcohol is dehydrating and could affect your moisture levels down there. Similarly, a lack of water intake can cause some dryness, so make sure you’re drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated throughout the day.

What does vaginal dryness feel like?

If you have vaginal dryness, you probably know it. “Most patients describe the sensation of vaginal dryness as discomfort in the pelvic region,” Dr. Bhuyan says. She explains that there can also be feelings of burning and itching. Other symptoms include soreness or irritation, as well as a need to pee more than usual. You might especially feel the effects of vaginal dryness while exercising, sitting, peeing, or having sex.

What can you do to treat vaginal dryness?

First, it’s important to figure out the underlying cause. If you suspect it’s linked to a medication you’re taking, consult your doctor to figure out next steps. They may recommend that you stop using that medication, and can prescribe something else. “Depending on the cause, there are various treatment modalities,” Dr. Bhuyan says. “Some people will use a lubricant during vaginal intercourse. Others will use a topical estrogen cream in the vaginal area, which can be in the form of a cream, pill, or even a ring.”

No matter what, Dr. Bhuyan warns against using any sort of douches, soaps, or lotions in your vaginal area. “These all can make the issue worse!”

What can you do to prevent vaginal dryness?

Dr. Bhuyan suggests that if you start to feel some of the symptoms of vaginal dryness, you should head to your doctor to find out the case to tackle it more effectively. Your discomfort could be something other than dryness, such as a urinary tract infection.

If it is dryness, your gynecologist may prescribe a topical cream, pill, or ring, as Dr. Bhuyan mentioned above. There are also some over-the-counter medications to help curb the itch, such as Replens. But, again, it’s a good idea to call your doctor to discover the underlying cause. In the meantime, don’t forget to stay hydrated.

Can you have sex when you're experiencing vaginal dryness?

If your vagina feels dry, the friction of sex can make the symptoms feel worse. But if you want to have sex while experiencing vaginal dryness, that’s totally fine. Dr. Bhuyan just suggests using lots of lubricant.

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At what point should you consult a doctor about vaginal dryness?

The moment you start feeling the symptoms of vaginal dryness like burning, discomfort, redness, or discharge, Dr. Bhuyan suggests going to a doctor. That way, they can help figure out a cause and find an appropriate treatment option for you.

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Carolyn Twersky
Associate Editor

Carolyn Twersky is an associate editor for Seventeen covering celebrities, entertainment, politics, trends, and health. On her off time, she's probably watching Ru Paul's Drag Race, traversing NYC for the best donuts, or, most likely, enjoying time in her favorite place in the world: her bed.