Vaginal Dryness: What You Need to Know

If you have experienced pain, irritation and discomfort during sex recently, you may have vaginal dryness. While vaginal dryness is fairly common in women after menopause, it can also affect women in the years leading up to menopause. Often, you are unaware of your condition until you get intimate with someone.

Here we discuss all the critical points you need to know about vaginal dryness.

Decline in Estrogen — The Root Cause of Vaginal Dryness

Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and is necessary for proper functioning of the vaginal glands, walls and supporting tissue. Estrogen stimulates the glands to produce vaginal fluid, which maintains regular lubrication. In addition, estrogen is also essential for the elasticity and thickness of the vagina.

However, when estrogen levels drop off in your body, the stimulating effect of the hormone is lost. The vaginal walls undergo thinning, lose elasticity, and become fragile. The glands stop producing vaginal fluid, and the vagina gets dry and inflamed. It is known as vaginal atrophy.

A decline in estrogen can happen for many reasons, menopause being the most common. Other causes may include:

  • Hysterectomy with the removal of ovaries
  • Radiation therapy of the pelvic region
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medications for breast cancer and other anti-estrogen drugs
  • Childbirth or breastfeeding

Declining Estrogen is Not the Only Cause for Vaginal Dryness

Besides a decrease in estrogen that may occur for several reasons; many other factors can also make your vagina dry. For example, certain allergy or cold medications can dry out the mucous membranes, including the vagina. Similarly, certain antidepressant medications can also lead to vaginal dryness.

Vaginal dryness may occur due to the excessive use of vaginal perfumes, lotions, douches, or other hygiene products. Some soaps, laundry detergents, and chemicals in swimming pools or hot tubs can also make your vagina dry. Furthermore, smoking, anxiety and depression can also cause vaginal dryness.

Other Symptoms Of Vaginal Dryness

Pain and discomfort are not the only symptoms of vaginal dryness; there might be many others. For example, the skin over the area vulva and around the vagina gets thin and fragile. Similarly, the vaginal lining also loses its elasticity. These changes cause a change in the appearance of the vulva and vagina.

Furthermore, you experience irritation and burning during urination. Sometimes, you can experience burning and irritation while sitting, walking or even working. You may also get frequent urinary tract infections or UTIs.

Lubricants or Moisturizers May Help During Sex

Over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers can be helpful for vaginal dryness. You can use them as follows:

  • Lubricants: Lubricants are applied before sex, and their effects last a few hours. Water-based lubricants are a better choice over silicone-based or oil-based. Although water-based lubricants do not last as long as others, they won’t irritate the vagina or make condoms less effective.
  • Moisturizers: Their effects last a couple of days, so they are applied two to three times a week. The good thing about moisturizers is you do not need to apply a moisturizer before sex. Moisturizers come in two types, internal moisturizer for the inner vagina and external moisturizer for the vulva.

Moisturizers and lubricants often provide enough relief within the first two months of use. However, if your pain and irritation during sex does not improve, talk to your doctor.

The Last Resort – Hormonal Treatments

If lubricants or moisturizers do not improve your condition, your doctor may recommend the following hormonal treatments:

  • Local Estrogen: You have many options to choose from for local estrogen therapy. For example, you can apply it in the form of creams or tablets. However, you need to be careful when applying creams as you do not want to apply too much or too little. However, tablets offer a good solution to this problem and need to be inserted a few times a week. You can also use vaginal rings, which release estrogen in small doses over 90 days.
  • Medication: Sometimes, your doctor may recommend additional medications like ospemifene, which have effects similar to estrogen.

Local estrogen therapy is preferred over oral tablets as it is not only free of systemic side effects but also provides more estrogen to the vagina than the oral route.