During the menopausal transition, the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen in preparation for the cessation of menstruation (i.e., menopause). This decrease in estrogen is the primary cause of vaginal dryness during menopause, which typically begins in a woman’s 40s or 50s.
Reduced estrogen levels often cause the vulva and vaginal tissues to become thinner, drier, and less elastic, a condition called atrophy.
During this time, vaginal secretions also diminish, with a correlating decrease in lubrication. Drops in estrogen also change the pH level of the vagina, making the once acidic environment more alkaline, which can increase irritation and the likelihood of vaginal infection.
In addition to hormonal causes, other physiological, environmental, and emotional factors can cause or contribute to vaginal dryness.
- Autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjogren’s syndrome)
- Infections (bacterial, viral, or sexually transmitted)
- Certain medications (e.g., antihistamines, cold medications, antidepressants)
- Cancer treatments
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
- Allergic reaction to chemicals in soaps, detergents, etc.
Stress is a major factor that can cause or increase the severity of vaginal dryness. Other emotional problems, including anxiety and depression, can lead to lack of arousal and vaginal dryness. Unresolved relationship problems can also result in decreased vaginal lubrication during sexual activity, loss of libido, and problems with arousal.
Vaginal Dryness Treatments
Fortunately for menopausal women, vaginal dryness is not a condition that has to be permanent. There are self-management techniques to cope with this symptom, as well as varying degrees of treatment options available. It is recommended to begin with the least invasive method and progress up to more drastic treatments if symptoms are not improved.
To begin with, there are lifestyle changes that can be implemented, such as dietary adjustments or a different exercise program. Stress reduction techniques – such as meditation or yoga – can help women to relax if their vaginal dryness is stemming from emotional causes. Communication with one’s partner is also very important.
Tips and cures
To ease physical symptoms, over-the-counter products – such as vitamin E, vaginal moisturizers, or water-based vaginal lubricants – may assist in providing sexual comfort.
For more severe or persistent cases, it is beneficial to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Pharmaceutical options exist, though they carry a higher risk of side effects.
Vaginal estrogen therapy is an option in the treatment of vaginal dryness, which may be an alternative with a lower risk of side effects than HRT, due to minimized absorption of the medicine into the bloodstream. In any case, consulting a doctor is necessary due to the possibility of complications.
- Moisturizers. These products act directly on tissue to relieve dryness. Moisturizers may be preferred by women with irritation and burning not limited to sexual activity, and they can also help prevent vaginal infections.
- Lubricants. Water-based vaginal lubricants decrease discomfort during intercourse.
- Blood flow. Regular sexual stimulation, which promotes blood flow to the genital area, can help maintain vaginal health.
- Staying hydrated. Water provides the vaginal lining with more moisture.
- Eating a balanced diet. Low-fat diets can actually worsen vaginal dryness. Unsaturated fats are recommended over saturated ones.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in cold-water fish and flaxseed oil, this nutrient helps with vaginal lubrication.
While lifestyle changes are a healthy and holistic form of managing vaginal dryness, they may be hard to implement and keep up with. Exercise and a healthy diet benefit overall health and may alleviate vaginal dryness,
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