What causes vaginal dryness?
Vaginal dryness can be caused by many things including certain medications, breastfeeding, or cancer treatments. Vaginal dryness is also more common during the menopause. As you reach the menopause, your ovaries gradually stop making the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen does many things, including helping to keep your skin hydrated and supple.
When your oestrogen levels drop, the walls of your vagina become thinner, drier, and less flexible. They’re also more easily irritated. As part of this process your body also produces fewer vaginal secretions, so your vagina is less well lubricated. A lack of oestrogen can affect other areas such as your labia, clitoris, and bladder too.
All of this can impact your physical health and your enjoyment of sex. If vaginal dryness gets in the way of normal life, it can also affect your mental health, too. So, it’s important to know that there are treatments available, and things you can do to help.
What does vaginal dryness feel like?
The symptoms of a dry vagina include:
- soreness, for example when wearing jeans or sitting down
- burning and/or itching
- inflammation leading to redness and discharge
- going for a wee more often
- urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially after sex
- pain, tearing or bleeding during sex
When you have vaginal dryness and urinary symptoms (such as needed to wee more often) during the menopause, it may be due to a condition known as genitourinary syndrome of the menopause. Here, the urinary symptoms result from the lack of oestrogen affecting your muscles around the bladder region. Treatment usually involves hormone replacement, as discussed below.
These symptoms can also be caused by something other than the menopause, so it’s best to speak to your GP about what is happening. Try not to be embarrassed about talking to your doctor, and remember they are used to seeing all sorts of conditions. If you’re able to get some help, it will be worth it.
Does vaginal dryness go away?
Vaginal dryness is thought to affect between half and three quarters of people who are either perimenopausal (the stage leading up to the menopause) or who have reached the menopause. Unlike most menopause symptoms, it’s unlikely to go away on its own and tends to get worse with time if left untreated.
Is there a vaginal dryness cure?
Although there isn’t a cure, there are lots of treatment options. If your doctor thinks your vaginal dryness is due to the menopause, they might suggest:
- a vaginal moisturiser for use on a regular basis
- water-based vaginal lubricants to use before you have sex
- a hormone pessary, ring, cream or a gel that you apply to your vagina
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a general treatment for menopausal symptoms
Here are also some things that might be helpful to avoid.
- Avoid wearing pants when you sleep.
- Don’t wear tight clothing around your crotch that makes you sweat.
- Don’t use douches (washing your vagina from the inside).
- Avoid scented toilet paper, tampons, or pads.
- Don’t use perfumed soaps or creams near your vagina.
- Don’t insert moisturisers or lubricants not designed for vaginal use.
We know that vaginal dryness can be something that people avoid seeing doctors about because of embarrassment. But, don’t let fear put you off from getting the support you need. Your doctor will be happy to help you with this common condition.