Women get the short end of the stick when it comes to nature’s little ‘surprises’ as we advance in years.
To start with, everything tends to head south our breasts, our bums, even our faces tend to sag after a while! By the time we hit 50 (or thereabouts), we are more than likely stuck in the middle of a vicious storm of hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, and mood swings. PMT has nothing on this! Another common symptom, but one which tends to be kept under wraps, is vaginal dryness.
Caused by hormonal changes, emotional and psychological issues, anxiety and also some medication side effects, vaginal dryness is a common and frustrating problem.
More than half post-menopausal women over the age of 50 will be affected, with painful sex being one of the most common symptoms, not only impacting the quality of life but also relationships.
In addition, pain at other times may also make it uncomfortable to sit, stand, exercise, urinate or work. Contributing factors to vaginal dryness in older women include:
The vagina depends on oestrogen for health and leading up to and during menopause these levels decrease. Other factors which will affect our oestrogen levels are childbirth and breast feeding as well as cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation resulting in a decrease in vaginal lubrication.
Stress and anxiety may also be a contributor, reducing blood flow and drying out mucus.
Some medications such as allergy and cold medications containing antihistamines as well as antidepressants and some asthma treatments can also cause a drying effect on the mucus membranes inside the body.
Chemicals in soaps, hygiene products and dyes and perfumes can all have an impact on our vaginal health. Swimming pools, spas and even some lubricants may also be factors.
Treatments largely depend on the cause.
If the problem is due to hormonal changes, oestrogen therapy may be of benefit in reducing the discomfort and pain during sex, correcting the vaginal PH and regulating bacteria. Local oestrogens in the form of tablets, creams, etc are not like conventional HRT as the effects are local, therefore reducing the risks.
Moisturisers are available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy one application can last several days. Natural products, stuff you may find around your home – such as coconut oil, vitamin E capsules and soy-based creams may also be useful.
Lubricants can be used to make sex less uncomfortable but are not a long term solution to the problem. Water-based products are the way to go as oil-based lubricants can also harbour bacteria and cause infections. Also, oil-based products should not be used in conjunction with condoms as the oil weakens the latex.
Maintaining good health and taking care of your body is most important and can be helpful in managing symptoms. The following points are a great guide for anyone, not just menopausal women.
1. Eat a healthy diet.
This includes all the essential nutrients, especially good fats such as avocado and nuts.
2. Exercise regularly.
Grab a friend and establish a routine together.
3. Drink plenty of water.
Ensure you stay hydrated especially in the warmer weather.
4. Use non-drying cleansing agents.
Use PH-balanced cleansing agents which don’t dry out your skin.
Some women will find vaginal dryness difficult, perhaps embarrassing, to talk about to their doctor or their partner, so it becomes a silent problem. Considering that we spend one third of our lives in a post-menopausal state, our quality of life should be our top priority at all times.
The hardest part will be taking the first step, so next time you visit your GP, don’t gloss over the embarrassing questions. Take a deep breath and speak up.
Isn’t it time you take responsibility for your own inner health and make the most of every day spent on this beautiful earth?
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention. We have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.