A happy, healthy vagina produces its own thin layer of clear fluid that lubricates the vaginal wall, keeping it thick and elastic. When production of that natural lubricant declines, it can cause vaginal dryness, which can lead to pain or discomfort during sex, an increase in yeast infections and more frequent urinary tract infections.
Vaginal dryness can occur in women of any age. The good news is, it’s not something you’re destined to live with. You can manage and overcome it with the help of your provider and simple lifestyle changes.
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal dryness is often caused by a drop in estrogen levels. The female hormone estrogen helps maintain natural lubrication. When estrogen levels drop, for one reason or another, one effect is the vagina loses its natural fluid, thins and becomes less elastic.
Reasons for decreased estrogen production include:
- Perimenopause, menopause, surgical menopause
- Taking birth control pills
- Taking anti-estrogen medications
- Radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
Other Causes of Vaginal Dryness
Other causes of vaginal dryness include:
- Side effects from allergy and cold medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, and asthma medication (Don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without talking to your provider about ways to reduce sexual side effects.)
- Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that may cause inflammation of the salivary and tear glands and walls of the vagina
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol
- An allergy to highly fragranced personal products, detergents, fabric softeners or toilet paper
Contact your Moreland provider if your vaginal dryness lasts for more than a week, or if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Severe vaginal itching
- Persistent vaginal swelling
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding after sex
- Abnormal vaginal odor
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
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Diagnosing and Treating Vaginal Dryness
About half of all women in various stages of menopause experience vaginal dryness, but only about 1 in 5 of them will seek treatment.
Regardless of your age, don’t be afraid to discuss vaginal dryness with your Moreland OB-GYN, whose job is to help keep you healthy, safe, and comfortable. Take a deep breath, and remember you are not alone.
Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam to check for changes in your vaginal wall and for infection before recommending treatment. Treatments for vaginal dryness are available by prescription, over the counter, and through home remedies.
Prescribed Treatments for Vaginal Dryness
Since a common cause of vaginal dryness is low estrogen, your doctor may prescribe topical, low-risk estrogen therapy to promote vaginal lubrication and improve the thickness and elasticity of your vagina. These may include:
- Vaginal ring – Your doctor inserts a soft, flexible ring into your vagina. The ring steadily releases a low amount of estrogen into your vaginal tissues and lasts for about three months. At that point, you would return to your doctor to have it removed and a new ring inserted.
- Vaginal tablet – You apply this medication using an applicator, similar to a tampon, to insert a low-estrogen tablet into your vagina. Like the vaginal ring, it releases a low dose of estrogen into your vaginal tissue.
- Vaginal cream – You apply this prescription also using an applicator to insert cream containing a low dose of estrogen into your vagina.
Ask your doctor for additional details on these therapies, including possible side effects. They may not be viable options for all patients.
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Over-the-Counter Treatments for Vaginal Dryness
Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter option to help with vaginal dryness, including:
- Personal, water-based lubricants like Astroglide, Femera, Sliquid, or K-Y to use when you have sex. (Oil-based lubricants can irritate and lead to condom breakage.)
- Vaginal moisturizers like Replens and Luvena, which you insert with an applicator every few days to help replenish your vagina’s natural moistness for continuous comfort.
Home Remedies for Vaginal Dryness
Simple lifestyle changes can help with vaginal dryness; consider these recommendations.
- Having sex on a regular basis, including adequate foreplay and arousal, to stimulate moisture production.
- Avoiding douching and personal hygiene products that contain fragrances and dyes.
- Washing your vaginal area using only warm water.
- Wearing cotton underwear to allow your vagina to “breathe.”
- Avoid thongs and clingy synthetic fabrics, which could worsen vaginal irritation.
- Eating foods that contain phytoestrogens, like soy, nuts, seeds, berries, and tofu.
How Long Does Vaginal Dryness Last?
If your vaginal dryness is caused by non-estrogen-related factors, your vagina should return to a normal, healthy state shortly after you’ve identified and stopped the behavior that may be causing the dryness.
If you are a breastfeeding mother, you may experience vaginal dryness for as long as you continue nursing, but this can be improved with the at-home or physician supported treatments mentioned above.
For women who are experiencing perimenopause or menopause, your vaginal dryness may persist, and you should seek the help of your gynecologist who can help with vaginal dryness.
How Moreland OB-GYN Can Help with Vaginal Dryness
At Moreland, we know that every woman is unique. Our approach is to look at the whole-health picture when it comes to a woman’s health. We evaluate physical, emotional, psychological, cultural, and familial conditions and work toward helping each unique patient achieve holistic, balanced well-being.
For our clients who are going through the transition of menopause, we look at how changes that come with menopause and aging affect a woman’s life. We employ the research and resources from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), an organization dedicated to promoting the health and quality of life of all women during midlife and beyond through an understanding of menopause and healthy aging. We believe we can help all our patient’s age gracefully.
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Overcoming Vaginal Dryness
While vaginal dryness may be a common side effect of aging, know that there are medications, hygiene choices, as well as multiple treatment options available to help you find relief.
Your Moreland doctor can help you identify the underlying cause of your vaginal dryness and recommend treatment.
The providers at Moreland OB-GYN are dedicated to providing women with compassionate OB-GYN care throughout life. This includes complete obstetrical care, gynecology, gynecologic and obstetric surgery, infertility services, preventive health care, and more. Learn more about our services and contact us online to request an appointment.