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Sometimes, a person may feel that their vagina is drier than usual or uncomfortably tight. These symptoms can occur for a number of reasons.
Common causes include hormonal changes and imbalances in the amount of good and bad bacteria in the vagina.
Read on to find out what causes vaginal dryness and feelings of tightness, as well as what to do to get relief.
Vaginitis is the medical term for inflammation of the vagina.
Some of the symptoms of vaginitis include:
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal itching
- sore, swollen, or cracked skin around the vagina
- vaginal discharge that has an unusual color, odor, or consistency
- pain when urinating or having sex
- light vaginal bleeding, known as spotting
Vaginitis occurs as a result of changes to the balance of bacteria and yeasts that live inside the vagina. These changes can occur as a result of:
- antibiotic use
- sexual intercourse
- pregnancy or breastfeeding
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), as many as 1 in 3 women will experience vaginitis at some point in their lives. The condition can affect women of all ages, but it is more common during the reproductive years.
However, many healthcare professionals recommend that people avoid douching, as it can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in the vagina.
A healthy vagina has a balance of both good and bad bacteria. This balance helps maintain an acidic environment, which protects the vagina from infections and irritation.
Douching, or using other feminine hygiene products, can upset this balance. This can lead to vaginal dryness and irritation.
Vaginismus is an involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles in anticipation of vaginal penetration. This causes tightness and associated pain whenever an object enters the vagina.
The symptoms of vaginismus may become apparent during sex, a pelvic examination, or the insertion of a tampon.
Some potential symptoms include:
- sudden vaginal tightness
- muscle spasms in the vagina
- a burning or stinging pain in the vagina
Vaginismus is a treatable condition that may require a combination of medical, physical, and psychological therapies.
During menopause, estrogen levels dip. This can cause vaginal atrophy, in which the vaginal lining becomes thinner, dryer, and less elastic.
Some people may experience a wide range of effects associated with menopause. Doctors refer to this as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM).
Some signs and symptoms of GSM include:
Estrogen levels decline dramatically after following childbirth. Estrogen can also interfere with milk production, so levels of this hormone decrease further when a person is breastfeeding.
This lack of estrogen can cause the skin of the vagina to become thinner and less elastic. The vagina will also become drier and feel less lubricated than normal.
These symptoms are temporary and should go away once the person’s hormone levels have returned to normal.
For people taking testosterone as they transition from female to male, it is possible that this can make the tissues of the vagina drier and tighter, as well as much more fragile.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition that affects the parts of the body that create fluids, such as tears and saliva. It can also cause vaginal dryness.
There are a number of effective treatments for vaginal dryness and tightness. The treatment that works best will depend on the cause of a person’s symptoms.
For this reason, it is important to see a doctor or gynecologist for diagnosis.
A person may need a combination of more than one treatment or management strategy. The sections below outline some options in more detail.
At the entrance of the vagina, there are two glands called the Bartholin’s glands. During arousal, these glands increase moisture production to aid sexual intercourse.
Lack of arousal can be a cause of vaginal dryness in some cases. To increase vaginal lubrication during sex, couples can take time to engage in masturbation or other forms of foreplay.
Personal lubricants are products that people can apply to the vagina before sex. They create a film over the skin, which helps counteract dryness and decrease friction during intercourse.
People should opt for water-based lubricants over oil-based ones. This is because oil-based lubricants can increase vaginal irritation.
Silicone-based lubricants also tend to be safe and effective, especially during menopause and after childbirth, as long as a person does not use them with sex toys made from silicone.
Personal lubricants are available without a prescription from most drugstores, as well as online.
Vaginal moisturizers are products specifically designed to treat vaginal dryness. They also help keep vaginal pH low, which ensures a healthy vaginal environment.
People should apply this moisturizer regularly, around every 2 or 3 days. Because vaginal moisturizers can last for up to 2 days, people do not need to reapply them before having sex.
Vaginal moisturizers are available over the counter in most drugstores.
Below are some treatments that a doctor may prescribe to treat vaginal dryness and associated symptoms.
Low-dose intravaginal estrogen therapy
Low-dose intravaginal estrogen therapy involves applying a small dose of estrogen directly to the vagina.
People can apply the estrogen in the form of vaginal creams, vaginal rings, or vaginal tablets.
Estrogen helps reverse vaginal atrophy and alleviate dryness and irritation.
Higher-dose systemic hormone therapy
Higher-dose systemic hormone therapy (SHT) involves using pills, skin patches, or topical sprays to release estrogen into the bloodstream. From here, the estrogen can travel to the various organs and tissues of the body.
A doctor may prescribe higher-dose SHT for those who experience hot flashes and other effects of menopause besides vaginal dryness.
Relaxation therapy and talking therapies
Vaginismus is a condition that emotional as well as physical stressors can trigger.
For people with vaginismus, a doctor may recommend relaxation therapy or some form of talking therapy. These therapies can help reduce the automatic tightening of the pelvic floor muscles and any associated fear of pain.
People can also see a physical therapist if they wish to improve the control of their pelvic floor muscles.
Some conditions that cause vaginal dryness and tightness require medical attention. Therefore, it is important for a person to see a doctor or gynecologist if they are unsure of the cause of their symptoms.
People should also see a doctor if they experience persistent vaginal dryness and tightness despite home treatment. The doctor may be able to provide stronger treatment. They may also want to rule out any underlying health conditions.
There are many potential causes of vaginal dryness and tightness. These include hormonal changes and changes in the balance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina.
There are also a number of potential treatment options for vaginal dryness and tightness. A person may need to try more than one treatment option to find symptom relief, however.
It is important to see a doctor or gynecologist if vaginal symptoms do not respond to home treatments. There may be an underlying condition that requires professional medical treatment.