Vaginal dryness is when your vagina feels sore, itchy or painful. This can cause discomfort when having sex or passing urine. It’s a common problem and can be caused by a number of conditions, medications and lifestyle factors. It’s not often a symptom of serious concern and there are several ways to prevent, manage and treat the symptoms.
The hormone oestrogen helps keep the lining of the vagina moist and supple. Vaginal dryness is commonly affected by things that change or affect your hormone levels, such as the contraceptive pill, breastfeeding, the menopause or having your womb removed (hysterectomy). Medical conditions like Sjogrens syndrome can also cause it. Medications including antidepressants and chemotherapy can cause vaginal dryness. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, exercising excessively, stress and the use of perfumed or scented soaps or washes around the vagina can add to the dryness.
It is best to stop smoking, avoid stress and avoid perfumed or scented products in and around the vagina. Although tempting to ease discomfort, using oil-based products like Vaseline or petroleum jelly inside the vagina carries the risk of infection and can prevent condoms from working properly. You can use products specifically made for the vagina, like vaginal moisturisers to help improve moisture levels. Water-based lubricants also help improve your symptoms during sex to make it more enjoyable.
If methods you have tried at home are not working, or the symptoms are really affecting you, if you have bleeding from the vagina or bleeding after sex, then book an appointment with your doctor.
If your symptoms are caused by low oestrogen levels, as in the menopause, your doctor may suggest oestrogen replacement cream. This can be applied directly to the vagina and surrounding genital area to help improve your symptoms. Depending on your preference, this also comes in the form of a small flexible ring and an applicator like a small tampon, as well as a cream. Topical oestrogen is not recommended if you have breast or endometrial cancer, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have unexplained vaginal bleeding.