We have already looked at the fact that there are lots of women who suffer from vaginal dryness and the symptoms they experience. But what can cause vaginal dryness? In this blog post, we explain why it is something that can affect so many women.
Why so many women suffer from vaginal dryness
A decrease in oestrogen levels leads to changes in the vagina, with many women suffering from vaginal dryness. Reduced oestrogen levels can be caused by a number of different issues:
- Menopause: The most well-known cause of feminine dryness is the menopause. During this time, oestrogen levels in a woman’s body decline and the female sex organs undergo changes. The blood supply to the female genital area also decreases, which results in thinning of the skin in that region. This makes the skin in the genital area considerably more susceptible to injury and also infection. People often only associate vaginal dryness with the menopause. This is probably due to the fact that one in three women going through the menopause suffers from vaginal dryness. Yet it is not just menopausal women who experience hormonal fluctuations; there are plenty of other reasons for vaginal dryness, too.
- Pregnancy, birth & breastfeeding: During pregnancy, a woman’s body is in a highly unusual state. During this time, the hormones oestrogen, HCG and progesterone are primarily responsible for the many changes which take place in a woman’s body. Once the pregnancy is over and the child has been born, the female body has a considerable amount to do to reset hormone levels back to ‘not pregnant’. During the process, oestrogen levels drop, which can cause vaginal dryness. During breastfeeding, the hormone prolactin is also produced, which can affect oestrogen levels as well.
- Radiotherapy or chemotherapy: Cancer is usually treated with radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. These treatments often influence the moisture levels in a woman’s intimate area. The mucous membranes dry out, which can result in itching and burning, as well as pain during intercourse. In some cases, treatment can even trigger the sudden onset of the menopause, which can then cause vaginal dryness as well.
- Removal of the ovaries: When a woman’s ovaries are removed, this can have an impact on hormone levels. If oestrogen levels are affected, this can disrupt the moisture balance in a woman’s genital region, making the mucous membranes in the vagina thinner, drier and more susceptible to pain and infections.
- Heavy smoking/alcohol consumption: The nicotine which heavy smokers absorb can adversely affect the blood vessels and, as a result, can also have a negative impact on moisture levels in the vagina. The same is also true of excessive alcohol consumption.
- Hormone therapy with anti-oestrogen: Hormone therapy using anti-oestrogen affects oestrogen levels. This can adversely impact the vaginal milieu and the moisture balance in a woman’s intimate area. These therapies are usually used to limit the effect of the hormone oestrogen on tumour cells. The growth of many breast cancer tumours is dependent on female sex hormones, for example.
- Problems with the immune system: Mucous membranes, like the skin generally, protect the body against bacteria. If the immune system is weakened, the mucous membranes no longer provide reliable protection, which can result in increased infections and feminine dryness.
- Excessive feminine hygiene: A woman’s vagina has an acidic environment, meaning it is able to protect itself against bacteria. Excessive feminine hygiene can disrupt the vaginal milieu, however, leading instead to vaginal dryness. When it comes to feminine hygiene, less is usually more. For a guide to what exactly to bear in mind, see our post Feminine Hygiene – How Can You Prevent Inflammation?
- Incorrect use of tampons: Tampons not only absorb the blood from a woman’s period, but they also absorb that all-important vaginal fluid. As a result, this vaginal fluid is no longer available to keep the intimate area moist, which can lead to pain. The rubbing which women feel then becomes much more noticeable. Women who already suffer from vaginal dryness should therefore find an alternative to tampons, if possible.
- Medication: Treatments for endometriosis, uterine fibroids and fertility problems can reduce a woman’s oestrogen levels – as can contraceptive drugs containing progesterone. But did you know that some cough and cold remedies can also have an effect on a woman’s intimate area? If you find you are suffering from vaginal dryness after taking medication for an allergy or a cold, you should speak to you doctor or pharmacist for advice on alternative medication you can take.
- Sjögren’s syndrome: Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue. This results in dry eyes and a dry mouth, but can also lead to vaginal dryness. Just like rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, Sjögren’s syndrome can run in the family. People can develop the condition at any age, but it most commonly appears over the age of 40. Women with Sjögren’s syndrome often suffer from feminine dryness and pain during sex, and this is often confused with vaginal atrophy brought on by the menopause. Women should speak to their doctor if there is a family history of Sjögren’s syndrome with dry skin, dry eyes, a dry mouth or vaginal dryness. It may be that it is not the menopause which is responsible for their symptoms, but Sjögren’s syndrome instead.
- Psychological causes: The mind is also key to female arousal – and, with it, the increased moisture levels in a woman’s intimate area that are so important for intercourse. Ideally, women should be able to switch off completely in order to become aroused. Only once a woman’s intimate area has become appropriately moist will the friction felt during sex cease to be painful. However, if a woman is feeling stressed, anxious or nervous, it can prevent her intimate area from becoming moist, resulting in a dry vagina.
There are many causes of vaginal dryness. It is not just women going through the menopause who suffer from the unpleasant symptoms associated with it. Even before the menopause, 17% of all women suffer from vaginal dryness. The causes listed here explain why. But what can you do to help to alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of vaginal dryness? Find out more in our next article.