Vaginal dryness occurs when there is a decrease in estrogen in the body. Certain levels of estrogen keep the lining of the vagina moisturized and enable it to produce additional lubrication when needed.
An important fact to note is that vaginal dryness is very common. Almost 1 in 5 women will experience vaginal dryness before reaching menopause, and over half of women will experience it after menopause.
There are generally two complaints related to vaginal dryness: that it is causing general discomfort, or that it is causing pain during sex. These complaints may stem from different causes or the same cause.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
The years leading up to and after menopause are particularly acute periods for drops in estrogen that cause dryness. Other natural ebbing of estrogen levels will occur after childbirth and during breastfeeding. You won’t necessarily need to expect to experience dryness during these times, but it is completely normal if you do.
There are also many outside factors that can cause a decrease in estrogen or drying out of the vaginal lining, such as:
- Birth control pills
- Cancer treatments
- Anti-estrogen medications (treating something like endometriosis or fibroids)
- Allergy and cold medicines, particularly antihistamines
- Scented or perfumed soaps used around or in the vagina
- Sjogren’s Syndrome, a fairly rare disease that causes dryness in glands all over the body, particularly in the eyes and mouth
Treating Vaginal Dryness
Because the causes of vaginal dryness are so varied, solutions can range from very simple—like waiting for your cold to be over so you can stop taking antihistamines—to more involved, like trying a prescribed medication.
Starting with the solutions you can try yourself: there are vaginal moisturizers available over the counter that can help keep your vaginal lining healthy. Examples include Replens and Luvena. Before use, make absolutely sure that the moisturizer is intended for the vagina. You should not apply any other type of moisturizer in your vagina.
Also, returning to the complaint about dryness during sex: this can sometimes be solved by emphasizing foreplay before sex or applying a lubricant just before penetration. Examples of water-based lubricants include Astroglide and KY Jelly. Note that water-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms, but silicone-based and oil-based lubricants can compromise condom material and cause it to break.
When to See Your Doctor
You should come in to see your doctor if you are experiencing itching, burning, or ongoing discomfort in the vagina. We will perform a pelvic exam and consider taking a blood sample to test for estrogen levels and anything else that could be causing the dryness.
According to your symptoms and the results of your exam, we may consider a prescription drug that can increase estrogen levels. There are medications that can be inserted into the vagina, so that the estrogen is delivered straight to the area that needs it, or medications that can be taken by mouth. There are pros and cons to each approach, which you can discuss with your doctor.
No matter whether you are navigating menopause or taking a new medication, vaginal dryness can be an uncomfortable and distressing experience. You are not alone: millions of other women are experiencing vaginal dryness at any given time. Lingenfelter Women’s Health is here to help you through this time as painlessly as possible. Book an appointment or give us a call (681) 282-5591) if you would like to discuss further.