Vaginal dryness, one of the most typical menopause symptoms, bothers up to 80 percent of women. Studies indicate that many sufferers are uninformed or embarrassed to ask for help with this common complaint. Learning more about vaginal dryness is one of the best ways to find a solution that will enhance your physical and emotional well-being.
You’ll be glad to discover that pain doesn’t have to hinder your sexual life and enjoyment. Luckily, research shows that many effective treatments can ease vaginal dryness, burning and irritation.
Understanding Vaginal Dryness
Normally, your body excretes a clear fluid through the blood vessel walls around your vagina. This thin layer of moisture lubricates your vaginal walls. Moisture defends your vagina from bacteria while providing a self-cleansing mechanism. During sexual arousal, your blood vessels receive more blood flow. This stimulates the secretion of fluid, which increases vaginal lubrication. Extra wetness promotes comfortable and enjoyable sex.
During your menopausal transition in your 40s or 50s, however, your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen in preparation for the cessation of menstruation. Diminishing vaginal secretion is the primary reason for decreased lubrication during menopause. Reduced estrogen levels often cause the vulva and vaginal tissues to atrophy or become thinner, dryer and less elastic. When atrophic vaginitis occurs,your vaginal lining loses its natural moist and soft feel.
Many women find that vaginal dryness can affect the way they feel about themselves, sex and life in general. Symptoms can range in severity from mild and slightly annoying to agonizing and life-impeding. You may experience general discomfort, itching, burning, stinging, irritation, pressure, urinary frequency and extra sensitivity when wearing pants and walking.
Urinary incontinence also may accompany vaginal dryness. When estrogen levels decrease, the walls of your vagina become increasingly weak and less able to prevent urine from escaping. Drops in estrogen also change your vagina’s pH level. This makes the once acidic environment more alkaline, which can increase irritation and the likelihood of developing vaginal infections.
Burning and irritation during sex are common. Light bleeding also may occur. A lack of adequate lubrication in your vaginal area can impede your desire and ability to have pain-free and satisfying sex. This can frustrate you and your partner. Having patience with each other until you can resolve this frequent menopausal effect is important to your health and relationship. A combination of prescription medication, natural remedies and/or diet modifications typically provides the most effective solution to overcome vaginal dryness.
Medication Eases Menopausal Effects
Restoring your hormonal levels to normalcy offers a fast and potent way to re-establish moisture and relieve vaginal dryness. Prescription medications include Prempro, which contains two types of hormones. Conjugated estrogens and progesterone treat multiple menopausal symptoms including vaginal dryness, burning, irritation and hot flashes.
Natural Lubricating Remedies
Fortunately, you can also take simple steps toward managing vaginal dryness on your own. Natural and over-the-counter lubricating and moisturizing options can help ease dryness on a temporary basis and improve comfort during sex.
Vitamin E oil: Use this nutrient externally and internally for lubrication. It also protects membranes from damage and helps restore thin vaginal tissues.
Organic vegetable oil: A tablespoonful will increase the wetness in your vagina for good pre-sex lubrication.
Over-the-counter lubricants: To decrease friction and ease sexual discomfort, use water-based lubricants instead of petroleum jelly. Some alleviate vaginal dryness by providing five to 10 minutes of moisture per application. When the water evaporates, you may need to apply more. Others offer relief for several hours.
Moisturizers: If your irritation occurs outside of sexual activity, you may prefer long-lasting moisturizers. Your vaginal lips can become so dry that they feel like sandpaper, causing painful friction when you walk. Moisturizers imitate normal vaginal wetness, acting on tissues directly to relieve dryness and help prevent vaginal infections. Some provide convenient all-day relief without needing to reapply. Others alleviate dryness for up to three days with a single application.
Healthy Diet Increases Moisture
Modifying what you drink and eat can help give your body the support it needs to maintain healthy estrogen levels.
Hydration: Drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day increases the moisture in your vaginal lining’s membranes.
Balanced diet: A diet that’s rich and varied in plant foods can help balance your hormones. Low-fat diets can worsen vaginal dryness. Choose saturated over unsaturated fats because they encourage estrogen production.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Consume cold-water fish and olive oil to promote vaginal lubrication.
Phytoestrogens: Plant-based estrogens contain compounds that mimic the function of your natural hormone. Increasing your soy, legume and flaxseed intake can compensate for your low vaginal estrogen supply. Recent studies have shown that a diet rich in soy flour and flaxseed supports healthy vaginal tissues and prevents dryness. Researchers found that women who supplemented their diets with 45 grams of soy flour and 25 grams of flaxseed per day had measurable increases in vaginal moisture during and two weeks following this dietary change.
Consult Your Doctor
Reproductive health is important for all women. This includes sufficient vaginal lubrication. Knowing how to treat vaginal dryness can help you avoid discomfort at all times including during sex. If symptoms persist, menopause expert and My Menopause Magazine editor Dr. Mache Seibeladvises patients to talk to their doctor. Your hormonal changes could be due to an underlying medical condition or infection that requires diagnosis and treatment.