How to keep yourself comfortable, collaborative, and open — even when struggling from vaginal dryness.
Vaginal dryness occurs in women of all ages. Around 17% of females between the ages of 18 and 50 experience problems related to vaginal dryness. The problem is even more prevalent during and after menopause. In fact, around half of post‑menopausal women struggle with vaginal dryness. This often leads to decreased libido, affects intimate relationships, and impacts the overall quality of life.
The good news is that vaginal dryness can be relieved with proper treatment. So, whether you are experiencing vaginal dryness before or after menopause, take the time to understand how to treat vaginal dryness to regain your sexual confidence and lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. But first, you must know what it is and why you may be experiencing it.
What Is Vaginal Dryness?
The walls of the vagina are lubricated naturally with a thin layer of clear fluid. Hormones, like estrogen, maintain this fluid to keep the lining of vaginal thick, supple, and healthy. Vaginal dryness is a condition that is caused when the amount of moisture is reduced. It can happen due to a number of reasons at any age.
Symptoms of Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort in the pelvic or vaginal areas. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly experienced symptoms of vaginal dryness.
- Burning sensation in the vaginal region
- Vaginal irritation, itching or soreness
- Decreased libido
- Reoccurring Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Pain during intercourse
- Light to heavy bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Need to pee more often than normal
Women experiencing vaginal dryness during the perimenopausal period may notice the following accompanying symptoms as well:
- Hot flashes and night sweat
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Reoccurring mood shifts
If you notice any of the above‑mentioned symptoms, you may be experiencing vaginal dryness. Since any change in the vaginal health is a cause of concern and must be addressed immediately, it is advisable to consult a specialist to find a suitable treatment, especially if the condition is affecting your life adversely.
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal dryness can be caused by a number of reasons, most of which are related to a drop in the estrogen level in the body. However, dryness can also be a result of external factors like douching, excessive mental stress, certain medicines, etc. Scroll below to take a look at the common causes of vaginal dryness.
1. Childbirth or Breastfeeding
Childbirth causes several changes in the body of the mother, including disrupting the estrogen levels. All women experience lower than normal levels of estrogen for a few months after childbirth. Continued breastfeeding can extend this period for nursing women. Most nursing moms experience low estrogen for around six months. However, for some women, lower levels may last for as long as they continue to breastfeed.
Childbirth and breastfeeding lead to vaginal dryness or tightness. Understand that this normal effect of childbirth and breastfeeding mustn't be dreaded. if you are experiencing vaginal dryness following childbirth, you have nothing to worry about. You can treat this condition at home or talk to your physician.
2. Treatment for Cancer
Treatments for cancer, especially chemotherapy and radiation and affect hormone levels in the body. The drugs used in chemotherapy affect the ovaries of pre‑menopausal women, impacting the production of estrogen. This, in turn, causes vaginal dryness and lower libido in women. Ovarian functions return to normal in some women after chemo while others may experience early chemo‑induced menopause.
3. Anti‑Estrogen Drugs
Anti‑estrogen drugs that are commonly used in the treatment of endometriosis and breast cancer are another cause of vaginal dryness. Hormones therapy can also block estrogen receptors, leading to a decrease in the level of estrogen. We advise you to consult your doctor if you are experiencing vaginal dryness while or after taking anti‑estrogen drugs. Based on your health and medical history, your doctor will recommend the best course of action.
4. Menopause or Perimenopause
Menopause is a natural process that marks the end of the menstrual cycle in women. Vaginal dryness is one of the most commonly experienced symptoms of menopause. Some women experience vaginal dryness during perimenopause as well, which is the transition time before menopause and may begin several years before the actual menopause.
In both cases, the level of estrogen drops in the body and vaginal tissue becomes thinner and easily irritable. All these factors work to cause vaginal dryness during perimenopause or after menopause. Luckily, there are multiple measures that you can take to tackle vaginal dryness caused by menopause and perimenopause. We will discuss them in detail in the next section, where you will learn how to treat vaginal dryness.
5. Surgical Menopause
Surgical menopause refers to menopause that is caused due to the surgical removal of ovaries rather than the natural aging process. Ovaries may be removed for any reason, for instance, to treat or prevent ovarian cancer. Regardless of the reason, removing ovaries leads to a lowered level of estrogen, which, in turn, causes vaginal dryness.
Antidepressants are known to reduce libido in both men and women. However, in women, it can also lead to vaginal dryness. Generally, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac, cause vaginal dryness, though it is important to understand that the effects of antidepressants on libido and vaginal dryness vary from person to person. According to experts, some other sexual side effects of antidepressant medicines in women include decreased sensations in the vaginal area, decreased libido, and difficulty reaching orgasm.
Smoking is an unhealthy habit that harms the body in many ways. It can affect the lungs and even cause fatal diseases, including pneumonia, emphysema, and lung cancer. One of the relatively less known effects of smoking is that it can lead to multiple sexual problems.
It is equally harmful to both men and women. It can cause erectile dysfunction in men and lead to vaginal dryness in women. Furthermore, smoking can also lead to an early onset of menopause. We already know that vaginal dryness is the hallmark symptom of menopause and perimenopause. For all these reasons, it is best to quit smoking even if you are experiencing vaginal dryness for some other reason.
8. Mental Stress or Anxiety
Mental stress or anxiety has a direct impact on sexual desire, which is why it is common to experience vaginal dryness when you are excessively stressed or anxious. Generally, there is insufficient blood flow in the body for proper lubrication. This causes vaginal dryness, which may cause further stress or anxiety. If you are stressed or anxious about having an intimate relation, it is advisable to talk about it with your partner. You can also try meditation or yoga to calm your mind and de‑stress your body.
9. Allergy or Cold Medications
Certain drugs, especially antihistamines, can affect your libido and cause vaginal dryness. These drugs are generally used to treat asthma, cold, and allergies. Side effects include vaginal dryness and trouble urinating (a lot of women confuse this with a UTI).
Since, in this case, vaginal dryness is a side effect of using medication. the problem should disappear on its own once you stop using these drugs. However, if vaginal dryness persists long after you stop using these medicines, it is best to consult with a doctor about it.
10. Douching or other External Irritants
The vagina is an extraordinary organ that cleans itself through natural secretions. It harbors a self‑reliant ecosystem, known as the vaginal microbiomes. It is also responsible for lubricating the vagina. It is important to understand soaps, lotions, and perfumes can act as external irritants, disrupting the natural balance of chemicals in the vagina and causing vaginal dryness. Similarly, douching can also lead to vaginal dryness.
11. Underlying Conditions
Vaginal dryness can be a symptom of some underlying condition, including diabetes or Sjögren's Syndrome.
- Diabetes: It can restrict the blood flow in the vaginal region, including the clitoris. This affects the ability to become aroused, which, in turn, leads to vaginal dryness.
- Sjögren's Syndrome: It is a rare autoimmune disease that damages the secretion glands in the body, affecting the production of saliva, tears, and vaginal discharge. The lack of natural secretion in the vagina leads to vaginal dryness.
How to Treat Vaginal Dryness
Now that you know what causes vaginal dryness, let’s take a look at what you can do to deal with it. Different treatment options are available in the market. While you can opt for an over‑the‑counter option, you may need a doctor’s prescription for others. Therefore, it is advisable to discuss the issue with a doctor before starting the treatment.
1. Topical Estrogen Therapy
Topical estrogen therapy is well suited to treat vaginal dryness caused by low estrogen levels. It involves the topical application of estrogen directly in the vaginal region. Since the level of absorption of estrogen is fairly low in topical estrogen therapy as compared to taking estrogen pills, this method is considered to be a low risk yet effective. You can opt for vaginal creams, vaginal rings, or vaginal tablets placed inside the vagina.
2. Lubricants and Vaginal Moisturizers
Lubricants and vaginal moisturizers are some over‑the‑counter treatments that are easily available in the market. The main difference between a lubricant and vaginal moisturizer is that a lubricant is used at the time of intercourse while a vaginal moisturizer can be applied at any time to restore the natural moisture of the vagina.
3. Monitor Your Diet
Did you know that certain foods can help reduce vaginal dryness? Well, research suggests that phytoestrogens can help with problems associated with vaginal dryness to some extent. Include the following foods in your diet if you are experiencing vaginal dryness.
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark, leafy greens
- Cranberries and apples
- Probiotics-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi
4. Stress-Busting Activities
Stress can be a major turn off and lead to vaginal dryness. Therefore, it is best to try stress-busting activities like meditation, yoga, walk, massage, etc. Any relaxing activity that helps you unwind and de-stresses your body will help!
5. Use the Right Hygiene Products
Avoid using fragrant soaps, lotions, or other cleaning or cosmetic products in the vaginal region as these products can disrupt the natural chemical balance in the vagina and cause vaginal dryness. Also, it is best to steer clear of vagina‑cleaning fads. Another helpful tip is to opt for breathable underwear.
6. Indulge in Adequate Foreplay
Women may experience vaginal dryness simply because they are not aroused properly. Therefore, foreplay is extremely important when it comes to sex. So, take the time to learn more about your body. Learn your likes and dislikes, talk to your partner, and try indulging in longer foreplay.
7. Regular Stimulation
Regular stimulation ― with or without a partner ― can increase the production of vaginal secretions. It will also help maintain a healthy chemical balance in the vagina and ensure good vaginal health.
When to See a Doctor
A lot of women treat vaginal dryness using home remedies or over-the-counter options. However, it is important to know when you must see a doctor regarding vaginal dryness. Consult a doctor if:
- Vaginal dryness is affecting your life negatively
- It is causing severe pain, itching, or discomfort in the vaginal or pelvic areas.
- You notice unusual vaginal discharge or blood following intercourse.
- You notice bleeding in between your period.
- Treatment options that you try on your own are not working.
Remember, the vast majority of women struggle with vaginal dryness. It is a fairly common problem and is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you are also having trouble with vaginal dryness, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. It is essential to regain sexual confidence and lead a happy and healthy life!