Vaginal dryness is a widespread health concern in older women. It is the feeling of dryness and itchiness inside and around your vagina. Usually, this occurs due to low estrogen levels just before and after menopause.
About Vaginal Dryness
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for maintaining the moisture of the vagina. It causes the release of a thin-clear fluid in and around the vaginal wall. It helps maintain the moisture and pH of the vaginal lining. It also acts as a lubricant during sex.
A lack of estrogen can occur at any age due to various causes. However, it is more common after menopause. It can cause a constant sense of itchiness and dryness, a major problem affecting a woman’s sex life. The good thing is that multiple treatment options are available to treat this problem.
Symptoms of Vaginal Dryness
The dryness of the vaginal lining causes the following symptoms:
- Mild bleeding after intercourse
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse (penetration)
- Soreness of the vaginal wall
- Itching in and around the vagina
- Burning sensation
When to See a Doctor?
See your doctor when you feel vaginal dryness or if the symptoms aggravate. If you have severe pain or bleeding during sex or your sex life is greatly affected due to vaginal dryness, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment from among the various options available.
What are the Causes of Vaginal Dryness?
One in every three women nearing menopause experiences vaginal dryness. So, the main cause is menopause. It increases gradually with time if not treated. Some of the major causes other than menopause are:
- Lactation or breastfeeding causes changes in hormone levels and can cause vaginal dryness for the entire duration of lactation.
- Parturition or childbirth causes low estrogen levels after birth and can stay that way for a few months, causing vaginal dryness.
- The surgical removal of ovaries bilaterally can cause vaginal dryness. This is because ovaries produce estrogen and their removal causes a steep fall in estrogen.
- Chemotherapy decreases the growth and division of the cells throughout the body, causing hormonal imbalance.
- Radiation therapy, either organ-specific or whole-body radiation, causes cell necrosis and vaginal dryness.
- Medications for uterine fibroids and endometriosis. These medications have anti-estrogen components.
- Vaginal dryness is a side effect of anti-allergic medication.
- Cold medications
- Decreased foreplay may not cause enough stimulation for the Bartholin gland secretions.
- Vaginal dryness is a side effect of certain antidepressants.
- Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry mouth and dry eyes, causes a decrease in vaginal secretion.
Treatment Options Available
The most common treatment for vaginal dryness is optical estrogen therapy due to low estrogen levels. These replace some of the hormones the body is no longer making. That helps relieve vaginal symptoms, but it does not put as much estrogen in the bloodstream as hormone therapy you take in pills.
One of three types of vaginal estrogen may be used:
- Ring: Your doctor inserts this soft, flexible ring into your vagina, where it releases a steady stream of estrogen directly to the tissues. The ring is replaced every three months.
- Tablet: Use of a disposable applicator to put a tablet into your vagina once in a day for the first two weeks of the treatment. Later, you do it two times a week until you do not need it any longer
- Cream: Use an applicator to get the cream into the vagina. You will apply the cream typically every one for 1 – 2 weeks, then cut back to 1-3 times a week as directed by your doctor.
Topical estrogen might not be suggested when you:
- Have breast cancer
- Have a history of endometrial cancer
- Have vaginal bleeding but don’t know why
- Are you pregnant or breastfeeding
- Other products used to counteract vaginal dryness include :
- Vaginal non-hormonal moisturisers
- An oral drug is taken once a day, ospemifene, which makes vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile, causing less pain for women during sexual intercourse. The FDA warns that Osphena may thicken the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and increase the risk of blood clots and stroke.
- Take time before having sex to ensure that you are fully aroused and relaxed. Apply a water-based lubricant (Astroglide, K-Y) to help enjoy intercourse more.
Prevention of Vaginal Dryness
You should practice regular, safe sex. Allow sufficient foreplay for the adequate release of vaginal fluids. Do not use perfumes, deodorants, and douchebags. Use soaps free of perfume and colour to clean your vaginal area.
Estriol, estrone, and estradiol are the three types of estrogen in the female. Maintaining healthy estrogen levels in the blood is important to avoid vaginal dryness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. At what age should I expect vaginal dryness?
Vaginal dryness can occur at any age due to various reasons. However, menopause is the main cause. It can be expected between 40 and 50 years of age.
Q. How is vaginal dryness diagnosed?
When you notice symptoms and visit your doctor, your doctor will ask for your detailed medical history. It is likely that your doctor might perform an internal pelvic examination, checking your vagina for thinning or redness of vaginal lining. A Pap test might also be recommended.
Q. What is laser therapy?
Laser therapy is a breakthrough therapy for the treatment of vaginal dryness. It is a painless procedure that takes a total of five minutes. Your doctor might insert an intravaginal wand inside your vagina and give it a 360-degree rotation.
Cellular and elastin changes in the vagina start almost immediately after laser therapy. Women feel symptomatic relief very soon after the treatment.
Q. How painful is sex with vaginal dryness?
It is moderately painful. Sometimes, this dryness may cause a tear in the vaginal lining. This might cause bleeding and pain during and after sexual intercourse.
Q. What complications might occur?
If not treated, vaginal dryness can transform into vaginal atrophy eventually. It is essential to get treatment to prevent the thinning of the vaginal wall and loss of vaginal orifice elasticity. Other problems include painful sexual intercourse, low libido, and increased chances of bacterial and yeast infections.