Many health issues can present themselves over time that affect vaginal and sexual health. There are many causes for these kinds of problems. Regardless of the cause, dealing with these conditions can be embarrassing and frustrating, and addressing them as quickly as possible becomes essential.
We’re going to take a closer look at the different symptoms, causes and treatments for vulvar dryness. That way, you can put this issue behind you and get back to living your best life.
What is Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal dryness is also known as vaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis, and it’s a common condition that affects many women. This condition affects the vagina’s ability to lubricate itself, and it can lead to some uncomfortable issues. Vaginal dryness can lead to irritation, itching and pain or difficulty having sex.
Symptoms of vulvar dryness include burning, swelling, dryness, stinging, chafing and in more severe cases, bleeding. This condition can also lead to vulvar discomfort, soreness and inflammation. The lack of lubrication in the vagina can also lead to pain during sex.
This condition also increases your chances of contracting an infection. Under normal circumstances, the vagina maintains a delicate pH balance, and the production of vaginal mucus helps to protect against infection. When that balance is thrown off, it can lead to infection, in addition to a range of other side effects.
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
In all cases, vaginal or vulvar dryness is caused by a lack of estrogen in the body. The most common cause of this lack of estrogen is menopause. Over time, a woman’s body produces less and less estrogen until almost no estrogen is produced at all. This causes a woman’s body to change in several different ways, and postmenopausal dryness is one of the many side effects of this change.
But, there are many other potential causes of vaginal dryness than menopause. Other potential causes for this condition include:
- Discontinuing a hormone replacement therapy regimens
- Physical or emotional stress
- Cancer treatments (radiation or chemotherapy)
- Oral contraceptives
- Immune system disorders
Regardless of the cause of vaginal dryness, this condition can be frustrating, and affect many aspects of your life. Addressing it quickly and effectively is important.
Menopause and Dryness
As we mentioned earlier, menopause is an unavoidable process which every woman will go through. As less estrogen is produced, this opens the door for a variety of different side effects beyond vaginal dryness.
In addition to sexual and reproductive side effects, hot flashes, increased risk for osteoporosis, difficulty sleeping, irritability, dry skin are common with menopause. Vulvar irritation and other sexual side effects can often be treated with creams, ointments or vaginal implants.
However, women who are exploring treatment options for general symptoms of menopause may wish to explore options which can help treat their other symptoms as well.
Diagnosing Vulvar Dryness
Vaginal skin conditions are easily treatable, but there are many potential causes for your symptoms, and it’s important that the underlying cause is diagnosed correctly to ensure that you receive the most targeted, relevant treatment possible.
When you meet with your doctor, make sure that you communicate any past or present medical conditions you have, especially conditions of the skin. Discuss your vaginal care practices with your doctor to ensure that the cause of your symptoms isn’t something you might be using at home.
Your doctor will perform a thorough examination and develop a preliminary treatment plan for you. Often, the initial treatment plan will provide you relief from the symptoms you’re experiencing. But, keep in mind that several visits may be necessary to address your problem adequately. Even the most experienced physicians may require multiple visits and therapy attempts before you can entirely put your vaginal dryness issue to rest.
Treating Vaginal Dryness
Fortunately, there are several treatment options available to you that can adequately address your symptoms. There are many over the counter remedies which are widely available. These treatments will address your symptoms short term, but they will not provide permanent relief from your condition.
Also, keep in mind that your vagina, and the vulva in particular is extremely delicate and requires special care beyond your normal skin care routine. While improper care probably isn’t the cause of your vaginal dryness, it’s critically important that you take special care of your vagina to minimize your risk for other problems which may arise as a result of vaginal dryness.
This helpful guide on personal care may prove to be a helpful read for you.
After you consult with your physician, they will decide the treatment options that are best for you. For women that are experiencing vaginal dryness that isn’t a result of menopause, there is a range of different estrogen lubricant options, as well as vaginal implants which may be prescribed to address the problem.
With estrogen creams or ointments, the skin can absorb the estrogen, and it works to eliminate the sexual side effects that are common with vaginal dryness.
If you’re experiencing side effects of menopause, your doctor may wish to go a different route with treatment. There are other estrogen treatments, such as pills, which can provide relief from the sexual side effects you’re experiencing, in addition to the other side effects of menopause such as hot flashes, irritation and difficulty sleeping. These types of medications can also protect against the increased risk of osteoporosis. You can also ask your doctor about a non-estrogen oral pill, raloxifene, that will significantly help with vaginal dryness.
Beyond the prescription options available, there are several of the counter options which can temporarily address your symptoms. Water-based lubricants can be particularly helpful for this purpose. If you’re considering a non-prescription option, be sure that the lubricant is not oil based, does not contain alcohol, fragrances, or artificial ingredients. However, two natural oils may be helpful and women use often are coconut or olive oil.
Many of the over the counter products available will cause more irritation and essentially do more harm than good. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in the lubricant, the better off you are.
Keep in mind that this is only a temporary fix, and you should consult with your doctor to develop a long term plan that will adequately address your symptoms.
Beyond the options we’ve discussed above, there are also some home remedies which may prove helpful in addressing your symptoms.
Certain foods and herbal supplements may help to provide relief from your symptoms without the use of prescription or non-prescription drugs. Foods such as soy, nuts and grains, and certain fruits and vegetables may be able to increase the amount of estrogen in your body.
Also, herbal supplements such as black cohort may be able to provide you with relief from your symptoms.
This increase in estrogen from these foods and supplements may help restore a healthy balance within your vagina, and address the dryness problem. However, adding these things to your diet won’t necessarily cure your symptoms at all. It may be a good idea to start with these remedies since there’s little to no risk of an adverse reaction, but it may be necessary to move on to over the counter or prescription options to find relief.
While estrogen supplements have been prescribed by doctors as far back as the 1940’s, research conducted in the late 1990’s suggests that there may be some health risks associated with estrogen supplementation.
These studies have suggested that taking estrogen supplements can increase your risk for certain types of cancers and heart disease. These findings sent the medical community into an uproar, and within a few months, the number of women taking estrogen and other hormone replacement therapies for menopause and other issues decreased by almost half.
More recently, other researchers have shined a light onto why the initial findings of this study may be misleading. It appears that age and genetics also play a crucial role in whether or not hormone supplements will increase the risk of developing these conditions.
The Women’s Health Initiative, which initially published these findings in the early 2000’s have recently offered an amended look at the safety and efficacy of these types of treatments. It appears that for most women, there is not the high level risk of developing cancer or heart disease when taking hormonal supplements as previously thought.
Further, many doctors and patients find the benefits provided by these types of therapies outweigh the potential side effects or risks. It’s important to note that the risk of side effects with estrogen creams and ointments is tremendously lower than it is with oral medications.
Vulvar dryness can be an embarrassing, painful and irritating condition, and it effects millions of women worldwide. Whether your condition is caused by menopause, or by circumstances that are completely unrelated to menopause, it’s important that you address them so you can return to living your normal life.
While this condition may be upsetting to you, keep in mind that it’s usually simple to diagnose and resolve. Consult with your physician to determine the best course of action for your needs and symptoms.