Vaginal dryness occurs in women of all ages, but it may become much more common after menopause. It's estimated that the problem affects about half of all postmenopausal women — possibly even as many as 90% — most of whom don't seek treatment for their symptoms. Besides dryness, symptoms also include irritation and pain during sexual intercourse.
Symptoms of a dry vagina
- dryness and itching
- vaginal bleeding (due to increased tissue fragility)
- alkaline vaginal pH (which increases the incidence of vaginal infections)
- tissue atrophy of the urinary system (linked to urinary frequency, incontinence, post-voiding dribble, and non-bacterial urethritis)
- pain or bleeding after sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
Oestrogen & vaginal health
Oestrogen specifically supports the health of the vaginal tissues (secretions, elasticity and thickness), so a decrease in this hormone can result in irritation and thinning of the vaginal lining. The condition is often referred to as vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA). The thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues also creates an environment susceptible to vaginal infections and gives rise to problems associated with difficult sexual intercourse.
Vaginal moisture is mainly produced by the cervix and is slightly acidic in order to fight infections such as thrush. However, lack of vaginal moisture during sex can become a problem. Further irritation can also occur as the vagina becomes less acidic and loses some of the bacteria used to fight infections. There are a number of reasons for this:
- lack of foreplay
- not feeling aroused
- emotional issues (lack of self esteem)
- relationship problems
- feelings of guilt or worrying about becoming pregnant
- low oestrogen levels as a result of breastfeeding or menopause/ perimenopause
It must also be noted that there are other causes associated with vaginal dryness which should be further investigated. These include:
- Lichen sclerosus or Lichen planus
- vaginal infections
- allergic reactions
- tumours of the urogenital tract
How to relieve vaginal dryness
The following are some general recommendations which may help alleviate vaginal dryness:
- Herbs in the form of oils or salves can be applied directly to the vaginal tissues to soothe and heal irritation. Choose herbs such as Calendula and Comfrey combined with pure Vitamin E oil and not synthetic or mineral-based lotions or creams.
- Some women find that a low potency Vitamin E capsule inserted into the vagina at night helps to relieve itching and irritation of the vaginal lining. The capsule will dissolve with the heat of the body and the oil will lubricate the lining and reduce the discomfort associated with the dryness.
- Avoid wearing synthetic underwear. Choose natural fibres such as cotton and silk as these will reduce sweating and irritation in the genital area.
- To protect vaginal tissues, avoid anything that irritates the mucous membranes such as harsh soaps, bubble baths, douches and feminine hygiene sprays. Also, refrain from using harsh laundry detergents when washing your underwear.
- Avoid using antihistamines and diuretics as these can further deplete the body and tissues of fluids.
- Ensure that you are adequately hydrated to flush out wastes and keep the tissues moisturised.
- If you require extra lubrication during sexual intercourse, you can purchase a natural lubrication fluid from health food stores. Yes yes yes and Olive & Bee are petroleum-free, gentle and natural lubricants for personal use.
- Your feminine hygiene products may be the culprit to vaginal dryness. Many of the products available have dyes, fragrances, petroleum and other ingredients that can cause the delicate vaginal tissues to dry out.
Declining oestrogen levels and resultant long-term hormonal fluctuations will create noticeable changes as a woman approaches midlife and menopause. A dry vagina is a symptom of decreasing oestrogen levels as a woman reaches perimenopause. However, it isn’t an issue that you need to endure or live with. A few changes to your daily routine will tackle the problem so that you can maintain a healthy vagina and continue to experience a satisfying sex life.
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Ziagham Z, Abbaspoor Z, Abbaspour MR, Rashidi I, Haghighizadeh M. The comparison between the effects of hyaluronic acid vaginal suppository and vitamin E on vaginal maturation index in menopausal women. AJUMS. 2013;11:393–401.