Vaginal dryness is a common symptom in women going through menopause and possibly for many years afterward. However, vaginal dryness can occur at any age for several reasons.
Vaginal dryness is the result of lower estrogen levels. Estrogen is the female hormone that keeps the lining of the vagina lubricated, thick, and elastic.
Lack of vaginal moisture may not be a problem for some, but it can have a big impact on a woman's sex life by causing pain and discomfort during sex. Fortunately, there are several different treatments available for relieving the symptoms of vaginal dryness.
The main cause of vaginal dryness is low estrogen levels. Women start to produce less estrogen as they get older. This leads to the end of menstruation during a period called perimenopause.
However, menopause is not the only condition that results in decreased estrogen production. Other causes include:
Immune system disorders, such as Sjögren syndrome
Certain cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy to the pelvis, hormone therapy, or chemotherapysurgical removal of the ovaries
Certain medications can also reduce secretions in the body. Douching can also cause dryness and irritation, as can some creams and lotions applied to the vaginal area.
Any burning, itching, or discomfort in the area is worth a call to your doctor or gynecologist. They'll ask you questions about your past health and find out how long you've had symptoms and what seems to make them worse or better.
Your gynecologist will do a pelvic exam, checking your vagina for any thinning or redness. The exam will help rule out other possible causes of your discomfort, including a vaginal or urinary tract infection. Your doctor may also remove cells from your vaginal wall or cervix for a Pap test.
There are different ways to treat vaginal dryness, depending on its cause:
Osphena (Ospemifene) This estrogen agonist/antagonist is the only oral product approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of vaginal dryness and moderate to severe dyspareunia (painful intercourse). It is not recommended for people with breast cancer or those at high risk.
Intrarosa (dehydroepiandrosterone) This vaginal suppository can help relieve painful intercourse.
Topical Estrogen Available as a tablet, cream, vaginal suppository, or ring placed directly in the vagina, it can relieve symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Lubricants and moisturizers:
Vaginal moisturizers (such as Replens, Lubrin, Sylk, and vitamin E vaginal suppositories) should be used regularly, whether or not you are having sex. Read product labels carefully: ingredients without parabens, glycerin, and propylene glycol can be irritating to your skin.
Vaginal lubricants are used just before penetrative sex. Water-based products containing glycerin include Astroglide, Luvena, K-Y Jelly, and Vagisil. Those without glycerin, which can irritate some women, include Isabel Fay and Carrageenan. Silicone-based products can be used safely with condoms.
Alternative and complementary therapies:
Regular sexual stimulation and activity, with a partner or alone (masturbation), can help keep vaginal tissue moist and promote healthy vaginal tissue.
Try natural oils applied topically, such as grape seed, olive, sweet almond, sunflower, or coconut oils.
When to visit a Doctor:
See your doctor when you experience:
it's been a few weeks and things you can try on your own aren't working
it affects your daily life
you have an unusual discharge or bleeding from the vagina
you have bleeding after sex or between your periods
If you suffer from vaginal dryness due to changes in your hormone levels, creams, gels, patches, or medications to increase a hormone called estrogen may be prescribed for you. This is called HRT.
There are several ways to deal with vaginal dryness that involve simple lifestyle changes:
Having regular sex can help fight vaginal dryness, whether alone or with a partner.
Blood flow to vaginal tissues increases when a woman is aroused, which helps stimulate moisture production.
Adequate foreplay and arousal before sex will help reduce vaginal dryness and make sex more enjoyable.
Many body products and personal hygiene products contain fragrances and dyes that can irritate or dry out vaginal tissue.
The vagina contains a delicate balance of good bacteria and is self-cleaning. There is no need to shower or use scented soaps around the sensitive vaginal area.
Foods containing phytoestrogens:
Phytoestrogens are compounds that work in the same way as estrogen in the body. They are found in plant-based foods including soybeans, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
Research suggests that phytoestrogens are associated with modest improvement in vaginal dryness and hot flashes.
Synthetic underwear can be sticky, make vaginal irritation worse, and restrict airflow. People should choose cotton underwear, which promotes good air circulation and allows the vagina to "breathe".
A low dose vaginal estrogen cream, tablet or ring, to invigorate vaginal tissue. Even if you are using systemic hormone therapy pills or patches, your doctor may recommend low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy if vaginal dryness and associated symptoms persist.
A diet rich in fatty acids can help produce additional vaginal lubrication. Raw pumpkin, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and fish (especially salmon, mackerel, and tuna) are great fatty acid-rich choices. Vitamin A and B supplements and beta carotene also have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids.
Vaginal dryness is a symptom of many different medical conditions. This can cause pain during sitting, standing, exercising, urinating (peeing), and having sex. Vaginal dryness can occur at any age. It is more common in women during or after menopause (end of menstruation, woman's monthly period).
Stress, birth control, antihistamines, childbirth, breastfeeding, and even dehydration can cause vaginal dryness. It can also be a symptom of vaginal atrophy, a condition in which the vaginal tissues become thinner and more easily irritated.