Vaginal dryness can be extremely uncomfortable and may occur at any time during a woman’s life. However, after the menopause it is very common, affecting more than half of menopausal women aged 51–60 years old. Vaginal dryness can be triggered by certain health conditions, medicines, hormone levels and even psychological issues.
Symptoms and Causes of Vaginal Dryness
The hormone oestrogen helps maintain the thin layer of clear fluid which lubricates the lining of the vagina, keeping it healthy, thick and elastic. This natural lubrication protects the vagina against infections, keeps it clean by flushing out dead cells and menstrual blood, and also aids sexual intercourse. During the menopause, oestrogen levels drop, reducing the amount of moisture available, and also makes the vagina thinner and less elastic – this is known as vaginal atrophy.
While some women only have symptoms of vaginal dryness at certain times, such as discomfort during sex; others have them all the time.
Vaginal dryness during sex – Around 17% of women aged 18–50 experience problems with vaginal dryness during sex, even before the menopause. This is often as a result of not being sexually aroused enough. This is often caused by insufficient foreplay or psychological reasons such as stress.
Chemicals in Feminine Hygiene & Other Products – Other reasons for vaginal dryness can be attributed to hygiene products such as feminine sprays, harsh soaps, swimming pool and hot tub chemicals and some washing powders.
Certain drug treatments – such as allergy and cold medications and certain antidepressants can also cause dryness.
Remedies for Dry Vagina
Vaginal dryness can have a huge impact on your sex life, with some women experiencing discomfort and even pain during intercourse. If sex is painful, take time for foreplay before penetrative sex to ensure that you are fully relaxed and aroused. Always make sure to give yourself plenty of time to become aroused before having sex. If your symptoms are severe, or interfering with your normal daily activities, you should seek medical advice – don’t feel embarrassed to seek help as there are a number of treatments that can help.
Lubricants – There are a number of straightforward and easy ways to lubricate a dry vagina, from water-soluble lubricants to moisturises, and vaginal oestrogen or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for those who are menopausal.
Lubricants are liquids or gels that can be applied to your vulva, vagina or your partner’s penis just before having sex to keep your vagina moist. These offer short-term but immediate relief from vaginal dryness.
Vaginal moisturisers – on the other hand, are creams that are applied inside your vagina. These may be better than lubricants as they tend to have a longer-lasting effect and usually need to be applied every few days. Water-based moisturisers are recommended, as oil or petroleum-based products can damage latex condoms and sometimes cause irritation to the vagina.
Vaginal oestrogen – Your GP may prescribe vaginal oestrogen if your dryness is caused by the menopause. This increases the level of oestrogen that has declined and is available as a pessary (device you place in your vagina), vaginal cream or vaginal ring. Oestrogen treatment is usually more effective than lubricants and moisturisers for menopausal women, but can take a few weeks to start working. Therefore, it is recommended that you additionally use a lubricant or moisturiser to begin with.
HRT – is a treatment that involves taking medication to replace the hormones that start to decline during the menopause which is available on prescription from your GP either as tablets, a skin patch, an implant under the skin, or a gel that’s applied to the skin.
If vaginal dryness is interfering with your lifestyle, relationships, or sex life, talk to your GP about your symptoms to get the right treatment for you.
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