Although vaginal dryness can occur in women of all ages, it is more common after menopause. Estimates say that vaginal dryness affects at least half of postmenopausal women.
The vast majority of women who experience vaginal dryness do not seek treatment for their complaints. The most common complaints that result from vaginal dryness in women are;
The North American Menopause Society and the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health refer to the combination of aforementioned menopausal symptoms, caused by a decrease in estrogen production, as the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM).
Like other chronic conditions, GSM can significantly reduce the quality of one’s life. While other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, typically decrease over time, vaginal dryness tends to persist as it results from physical changes in the vagina—specifically, tissue thinning (atrophy),dryness, and reduced flexibility due to the drop in estrogen levels.
The treatment for vaginal dryness should ideally be geared towards addressing the root cause first. It is usually the case that eliminating or treating the root cause enables the vagina to regain its old healthy structure. There are two types of treatment for menopause and estrogen deficiency-related vaginal dryness.
In a recent scientific study, the above two treatment modalities were compared in patients with severe vaginal dryness - i.e., the study compared vaginal estrogen therapy with vaginal moisturizers or lubricants.
The study, published in the May 2018 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, found that vaginal estrogen, vaginal moisturizer, and the lubricating gel used for comparison yielded nearly identical results in relieving vaginal dryness, irritation, and pain in postmenopausal women. The study also showed that the use of hormones is not necessary; less expensive options like vaginal moisturizers and gels showed similar effects.
In addition, it is important to note that cotton underwears are a much better choice, and scented pads can irritate the vagina and vulva.
Use water-based lubricants in and around your vagina before sexual intercourse, or ask your partner to use them.
Use vaginal moisturizers for vaginal dryness - you can apply them inside your vagina to keep it moist.
Plant-based oils that are good for vaginal dryness are as follows:
Some women are strongly against the idea of using vaginal estrogen. They fear it's the same as other hormone therapies that are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. The Women's Health Initiative, a 15-year study that began in 1991, found a threefold increased risk of breast cancer and stroke among women who took oral estrogen for a long time after menopause. However, vaginal estrogen is not the same as hormone replacement therapy; it is a lower-dose topical treatment that comes in a cream, tablet, or ring that is applied to the vagina.
Generally, some estrogen is absorbed into the bloodstream; however, compared to an estrogen pill or patch, only small doses of orally ingested estrogen are absorbed into the bloodstream. The leading medical institutions of the world agree that in terms of cardiovascular risks and cancer risks, only vaginally administered estrogen is safer than oral estrogen.
However, if you are a breast cancer survivor, you should consult your oncologist before using vaginal estrogen. Although many medical professionals are of the opinion that many oncologists have no problems with patients using this treatment, the decision is a delicate one and may not be recommended for some women.
Phytoestrogens, which are also herbal estrogens, are compounds that act similarly to estrogen in the body. They are found in plant-based foods such as soy, nuts, and seeds.
One scientific study suggests that consuming phytoestrogens may slightly improve vaginal dryness and hot flashes during menopause. However, the evidence is limited and more research is needed.