As the vaginal tissues become drier they also lose the acidic protection of the natural lubricant and the vaginal environment is then less effective at fighting infections.
Menopause Vaginal Dryness mainly affects women between 40-65 years although it can happen at any time for reasons other than menopause.
As the vaginal tissues re-moisturize they recover their natural elasticity and functions. The degree to which their full function is able to return may be dependent on severity. As many as 80% of women entering menopause are affected by vaginal dryness and about 50% of women completing menopause continue to experience vaginal dryness.
To feel suddenly let down by one’s body, to discover that the “warm wet welcome” that was always taken for granted now is not, can be shocking. Vaginal dryness can ruin sexual intercourse and intimacy for some women and leave many feeling inadequate, guilty and confused.
Why does vaginal dryness happen during the menopause?
The mucous membranes of the vagina produce a fluid or natural lubricant that keeps the vagina moist, elastic and strong. Estrogen in the body encourages the vaginal tissues to produce this lubricant. The body’s own natural lubricant is acidic which helps protect the vagina from bacterial and fungal infections.
As estrogen levels fall during menopause the vaginal tissues produce less of the lubricant. This then can cause the vagina to become dry and the tissues to lose their elasticity and strength. As the vaginal tissues become thinner they become more fragile and sensitive.
Can vaginal dryness cause more Thrush infections?
As the vaginal tissues become drier they also lose the acidic protection of the natural lubricant and the vaginal environment is then less effective at fighting infections. Also the use of any product that could reduce the natural acidity of the vagina, such as douches, similarly impacts the vagina’s ability to fight infections. Therefore, more frequent Thrush and urinary tract infections are a possibility with vaginal dryness.
It is not often mentioned that as the estrogen levels decline, less blood flows to the reproductive areas; as less blood reaches the vaginal tissues the cells begin to lose their elasticity and the vagina might begin to sag. It is also possible that the external appearance will change as the vulval tissues become thinner.
What are the symptoms of vaginal dryness?
Menopausal itching is a very distressing symptom, and can be internal or external. External itching can be due to the vulval tissues drying, losing their acidic and protective moisture.
So what are the best ways to relieve vaginal dryness?
1. Stay hydrated. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day will help keep your tissues moist, including those below the belt.
2. Lubricate, and lubricate some more. Many women achieve instant relief simply by using a lubricant. There are at least half a dozen of these on drugstore shelves. You may need to experiment to find one that works best for you.
3. Avoid personal hygiene sprays. Chemicals in these products can be irritating to delicate tissues that line the vagina.
4. Skip the douching. This can disrupt the vagina's normal chemical balance, leading to inflammation and dryness.
5. Eat healthful amounts of "good" fats. Your body needs a little fat with every meal to make adequate levels of sex hormones. Flaxseed oil and soy, which have estrogen-like effects, may help somewhat with vaginal dryness.
By Dede Williams