A very common symptom of menopause is vaginal dryness. Around one-third of women experience it at menopausal onset and that number only grows as women age
Vaginal dryness might not impact your day-to-day activities, but it can lead to itching or stinging. Many women also report that it has negatively affected their sex life. There are some minimally-invasive treatments for vaginal dryness that can help ease the symptoms and restore vaginal health.
What are the Causes of Vaginal Dryness?
During a woman’s childbearing years, the hormone estrogen is involved in lubricating the walls of the vagina. Estrogen also assists in keeping the vaginal walls healthy and supple. However, women going through menopause decrease their production of estrogen, leading to less moisture production and thinner, dryer vaginal walls. Doctors refer to this condition as atrophic vaginitis. The deterioration of vaginal health can lead to pain during intercourse and bladder issues such as urinary tract infections, frequent urination, and urinary stress incontinence.
What are the Treatments for Vaginal Dryness During Menopause?
For years the simplest way to treat vaginal dryness is to replace the estrogen lost during menopause with topical estrogen therapies. When applied directly to the affected area, estrogen therapy can assist with lubrication without putting as much of the hormone into your bloodstream as regular hormone replacement therapy.
There are three main types of topical estrogen:
Vaginal estrogen creams
These are creams that are inserted into your vagina with an applicator or applied externally in the genital region. Common estrogen creams include Premarin and Estrace.
Vaginal estrogen tablet
Much like a cream, vaginal tablets can be inserted into the vagina using an applicator. Vagifem is one common example.
These are small, elastic rings that can be inserted into the vagina, where it slowly releases estradiol into the surrounding tissues. The ring cannot be felt once inserted, and can be left in place for 3 months until it needs to be replaced. The convenience of leaving the ring for 3 months is one of its benefits. Estring is one commonly prescribed vaginal ring.
What are the downsides of estrogen-based treatments?
Topical estrogen treatments reverse some of the effects of menopause by making up for lost estrogen production in the genital region. Unlike over-the-counter lubricants, which moisturize the area with artificial lubrication, topical estrogen therapies help the vagina to produce its own natural lubricants.
However, topical estrogen may not be a good fit for everyone. Additionally, women who have breast cancer or have a history of endometrial cancer may want to avoid estrogen therapy.
New Technology to the Rescue
A new treatment option that has recently come to the Unites States and is now available to our patients is called “Mona Lisa Touch.” This is a quite revolutionary because it is almost 100% effective and requires no drugs at all.
The Mona Lisa Touch is a quick, painless laser treatment that delivers controlled energy to the vaginal tissue. It stimulates collagen production and is safe for those who are unable to use hormones. The full treatment requires 3 visits, 6 weeks apart, and takes less than 5 minutes per visit. No anesthesia or pain medication is needed.
Are There any Non-medical Options for Vaginal Dryness?
If estrogen therapy isn’t right for you and you are not able to afford alternative treatments, then over-the-counter lubricants, such as Astroglide, could be of benefit. These water-based lubricants are inexpensive, safe to use with condoms, and are widely available at drugstores.
Gynecologists do not recommend douching as a treatment for vaginal dryness. Douches, as well as heavily fragraenced lotions and soaps, can dehydrate your vaginal walls and compromise vaginal health.