Vaginal dryness is a lack of natural moisture inside and outside of the vaginal area. It is most often caused by medications, and menopause- when there is a decrease in a woman’s estrogen production level. This ultimately leads to a painful experience both with intercourse and everyday activities- such as simple walking. If you suffer from uncomfortable vaginal dryness… you are not alone. A recent study indicated that almost 14 million women live with vaginal dryness.
At some point in her life, almost every woman will have experienced this common ailment; unfortunately, most women will go without treatment due to the embarrassing nature of the problem. If you are having issues with vaginal dryness or painful sex, this guide will tell you the basics about what may be to blame, how to treat the root cause, and what to expect from your doctor’s visit.
The symptoms of vaginal dryness are pretty self-explanatory, but may include constant dryness, dryness during certain portions of a woman’s cycle, or pain during intercourse. Many women experience all of the above. Other symptoms of vaginal dryness include itching and burning, soreness, vaginal skin irritation, painful movement, and unpleasant odor.
There are many different causes of vaginal dryness and usually the simplest explanation is to blame. However, sometimes dryness may be caused by pre-existing conditions. The following may contribute to a decrease in vaginal moisture:
- Postpartum period
- Certain medications such as- allergy meds, anti-estrogen pills, and other medicines
- Nicotine addiction
- Primary immunodeficiency
- Certain cancer treatments that effect ovaries
- Ovary removal surgery
- Douching, using perfumery soaps and bath gels.
- Drinking excessive alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Perimenopause (the time frame leading up to menopause)
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Anxiety or other functional issues
- Multiple Sclerosis
Vaginal dryness can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the cause; however, you cannot get relief without speaking to your doctor, especially if over the counter remedies have failed. Here is what you need to know:
Estrogen and Vaginal Health
The vagina is dependent on estrogen to stay healthy and maintain moisture both in general and during sex. When a woman’s estrogen level undergoes changes, either during menopause or while undergoing cancer treatments, she will begin to notice changes in her vaginal moisture levels. If your vaginal dryness is due to estrogen drops, your doctor may wish to start you on an estrogen therapy. If he or she prescribes estrogen, there are three different types of estrogen that are most commonly prescribed. They include:
- Estrogen ring (a soft ring inserted into the vagina that releases estrogen continuously over a 3-month period)
- Estrogen tablet (a tablet inserted into the vagina in a dissolving form)
- Estrogen cream (also inserted via a tampon-like applicator into the vagina as directed by your physician)
Painful Sex and Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness that is only present during sex can be attributed to a few different factors. If you are feeling emotionally disconnected from your partner, or are feeling anxious and stressed, your body may not be as responsive to sexual activity. Likewise, anxiety can cause problems in the bedroom. Anxiety inhibits the body’s blood flow which is needed to produce vaginal moisture prior to and during intercourse. These issues can be remedied with over the counter vaginal lubricants, relationship improvement or counseling, and possibly, antidepressants or vitamins, depending on the root cause.
Over the Counter Remedies
Before you result to estrogen therapies, you may want to try an over the counter remedy. Hormone replacement therapy, though effective, can have side effects like any other drug that may be undesirable. This is why many doctors recommend trying over the counter remedies prior to beginning a more extensive estrogen prescription. The following products are great starting points for attempting to remedy the issue over the counter:
- Vaginal moisturizers or moisturizing beads such as Replens (These products are used as long acting treatments to provide an increase in general moisture to the vagina.)
- Personal lubricants like KY Jelly or Astroglide (These products are short acting and best for intercourse.)
While there are no studies that have been able to prove or disprove the aid of these homeopathic remedies, many women have insisted the following natural remedies worked for them. If you are considering one of these methods, always consult your physician prior to beginning a holistic therapy.
Some believe that taking, or externally using certain vitamins, like Vitamin E can help remedy dryness; while others believe a change in diet may improve dryness. Foods such as nuts and fish are thought to replenish the natural moisture of the vagina; as well as drinking lots of water and getting regular exercise to increase blood flow.
When to Seek Help
If you are experiencing any dryness around the vaginal area, make an appointment to see your gynecologist right away. Your doctor will likely preform a pelvic exam during your initial visit, checking for any reddened or thinned skin that may be to blame. He or she may also perform a routine PAP smear test to determine the health of cells in the cervix and vaginal wall. Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking. It may help to bring a list. Take note to mention if you notice a worsening of symptoms when taking the medication or after douching, each of which could be the culprit of the problem.
Talk About It
Women rarely talk to their doctor or even each other about feminine dryness. While it may seem embarrassing, the stigma that comes with conditions of a sexual nature, are often all in your head. It is important to talk about dryness with your doctor, as well as open up a dialogue with your partner about what may help in the bedroom. It is also important to know that there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Vaginal dryness is not your fault and with the proper treatment, can be managed and greatly improved, making a painful, irritating problem… a problem no longer.
The doctors at the Woodlands OBGYN Associates understand the challenges of feminine dryness and how to treat it. Schedule an appointment to have a confidential conversation with them today.