Vaginal dryness occurs in women of all ages, but it becomes much more common after menopause. It's estimated that the problem affects about half of postmenopausal women. Most of these women, possibly as many as 90%, don't seek treatment for their symptoms, which include not only dryness, but also irritation and pain during sexual intercourse.
Normally, the walls of the vagina stay lubricated with a thin layer of clear fluid. The hormone estrogen helps maintain that fluid and keeps the lining of the vagina healthy, thick and elastic. A drop in estrogen levels reduces the amount of moisture available. This can happen after menopause or at any age from a number of different causes.
Estrogen levels can also drop because of:
Childbirth and breastfeeding
Radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer
Surgical removal of the ovaries
Anti-estrogen medications used to treat uterine fibroids or endometriosis
Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disorder that attacks cells in the body that produce moisture)
Allergy and cold medications
Not enough foreplay before sex
No matter what the cause, vaginal dryness can be extremely uncomfortable. It can lead to itching, burning, and painful intercourse. It may seem like a minor irritation. But the lack of vaginal moisture can have a huge impact on your sex life. Fortunately, several treatments and remedies are available to relieve vaginal dryness.
Any burning, itching, or discomfort in the area is worth a visit to your doctor or gynecologist. Your doctor may do a pelvic exam, checking your vagina for any thinning or redness. The exam can help rule out other possible causes for your discomfort, including a vaginal or urinary tract infection. The doctor may also remove cells from your vaginal wall or cervix for a Pap test.
The most common treatment for vaginal dryness remedies due to low estrogen levels is topical estrogen therapy. This may come in the form of a cream (Estrace or Premarin), a ring insert (Estring), or a tablet (Vagifem). These replace some of the hormone your body is no longer making. That helps relieve vaginal symptoms, but it doesn't put as much estrogen in your bloodstream as the hormone therapy you take in pills.
Any estrogen product can have side effects, such as vaginal bleeding and breast pain. Topical estrogen may not be recommended when you:
Have breast cancer, especially if you're taking an aromatase inhibitor
Have a history of endometrial cancer
Have vaginal bleeding but don't know why
Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Your doctor may also recommend that you use a lubricant during sex.
In addition to other treatments, a good skin care regimen can help hydrate your vulvar tissues, just as it can help dry skin on other areas of your body. Lotions that you use on your skin are too harsh to use on vulvar tissue, so make sure you are using a moisturizer specifically formulated for intimate skin.
Stay away from potential vaginal irritants, some scented pads may cause irritation as can scented detergents and certain underwear fabrics. Generally, cotton underwear is the best choice to wear on a regular basis.