Vaginal dryness is a frequent problem that can lead to discomfort and itching. For some women, it can also cause pain during sexual intercourse and lead to a lack of interest in sex. Many women feel uncomfortable discussing vaginal dryness with their doctor, which means they may continue to suffer from something that is usually fairly easy to treat. Here is a look at the common causes of vaginal dryness and when you should contact a doctor.
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
Outlined below are some of the top causes of vaginal dryness.
Reduced Estrogen Levels Due to Aging
One of the main causes of vaginal dryness is dropping estrogen levels. As women age, their bodies produce less of this hormone until menstruation ceases in a phase known as perimenopause. In this sense, vaginal dryness is inevitable as women age.
Other Medical Conditions That Impact Estrogen Levels
There are other conditions that may lead to a decrease in the production of estrogen besides aging. These include childbirth, breastfeeding, certain immune system disorders, and some types of cancer treatments, such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or radiation in the pelvic area. It is also common in women who have had their ovaries surgically removed.
For some women, the source of vaginal dryness may be psychological. Our bodies carry stress and anxiety in many ways, and this can sometimes be manifested in intimate health. Depression and excessive stress can both affect the flow of blood to the vagina. This impacts the amount of lubrication your body naturally produces, which can result in vaginal dryness and painful sex.
It can also set off inflammatory processes within the body that affect blood flow and the nervous system transmission needed to spur vaginal lubrication. This may also lead to low libido, which may be caused by anxiety and stress on their own as well as painful sex due to vaginal dryness.
Smoking is another common cause of vaginal dryness. It affects blood flow in the genital area, decreasing lubrication and potentially impacting the ability to reach orgasm.
In addition, female smokers often enter menopause earlier than women who do not smoke, which means they can experience vaginal dryness linked to menopause at a younger age.
Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the entire body, including the vagina. Having less body water overall means there is less fluid available to lubricate the vagina. In addition, because alcohol serves as a central nervous system depressant, your nerve endings will not be as sensitive while you are under the influence of alcohol as they are when there is no alcohol in your system. Therefore, the mind-body connection might not be able to stimulate vaginal lubrication as effectively as usual.
There are several types of medications that can cause vaginal dryness. Birth control pills that lower estrogen levels can have this effect. Antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors alter the communication between your brain and your nerve cells, which can slow the communication between the vagina and the brain and lead to a reduction in lubrication. It is particularly pronounced in those who take higher doses of antidepressants.
Antihistamines, commonly given to those with allergies, are another medication that can cause vaginal dryness. Although they are very good at drying out excess nasal mucus, they can also have this effect on the vagina because they block the response in charge of regulating the neurotransmitters that are responsible for vaginal lubrication.
Douches and Other Hygiene Products
For some women, vaginal dryness can be traced to douching. In addition to removing bacteria that is needed for a healthy pH balance in the vagina, these products also contain perfumes and other irritating ingredients that may be drying to the tissues of the vagina. Experts recommend avoiding douching because it is not necessary and often causes more harm than good.
Allergies to certain products could also be the culprit. Consider the detergents, fabric softeners, and other products used to wash your underwear. If you are using scented toilet paper or heavily scented lotions, consider discontinuing their use to see if the problem clears up.
Get in Touch With Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness
Vaginal dryness is very common and often not a cause for concern, so it is not always necessary to seek medical help. For many women, identifying the source of the dryness and correcting it can provide relief, whether it is changing detergents or avoiding certain medications. A vaginal moisturizer can often provide relief as well.
However, if your dryness lasts longer than a week or it is accompanied by severe itching, persistent swelling, or bleeding after sex, it’s a good idea to discuss your symptoms with a doctor. The women’s healthcare team at Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness can help you identify the source of your dryness and find a solution that provides relief. Contact us today for an appointment.