Five years ago, Janice Sim*, a senior accountant, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 53. After two surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, Sim kicked cancer’s butt.
However, one of her meds, Tamoxifen, resulted in her feeling some dryness in her nether regions. “I was having a lot of pain with intercourse, to the point where I just stopped being sexually active,” recalls Sim.
Desperate to keep their sex life going, Sim and her husband tried lubricants, but she was still feeling pain. As a result, Sim avoided sex with her husband. “He was not happy and it really affected our relationship because my husband thought I wasn’t attracted to him anymore. It was so depressing not to be able to have regular sex with the person you love.”
Vaginal dryness is a common issue plaguing women from all walks of life. Nor does dryness in the vagina only affect older women, younger ones, especially postpartum and breastfeeding mums, also suffer from this condition.
SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician & gynaecologist, has more information on this relatively unknown, but highly treatable complaint.
What is vaginal dryness?
It is literally dryness in the vagina and usually associated with vaginal discomfort, a burning sensation due to dryness-related inflammation, an urgency to urinate and painful sex.
What causes vaginal dryness?
Vaginal dryness is usually caused by perimenopause [the period before menopause occurs] or menopause. In my practice, I see mostly menopausal women. With women living up to their mid-80s, this problem is only set to get worse. A third of my patients, I estimate, are menopausal, but the problem is that they do not talk about it, do not know treatment is available and do not know where to seek treatment.
Contrary to popular belief, dryness is the vagina not only affects older women, but younger ones as well especially postpartum and breastfeeding mums.
Why would younger women experience vaginal dryness?
It’s usually because of a hormonal imbalance. In younger women, vaginal dryness can be caused by:
· Breastfeeding and childbirth, which causes a dip in oestrogen levels.
· Certain types of contraception, usually the older generation type has a higher dose of hormones. Certain drug treatments such as allergy, cold medications and some antidepressants also have the same effect.
· Cancer treatments Chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the pelvic area and hormonal cancer treatments can lower oestrogen levels.
· Autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, which is associated with skin dryness. Sometimes, it’s from the medication used to treat these diseases such as steroids and high-dose vitamin A therapy.
· Diabetes can cause dry skin and also irritate it.
· Hygiene products such as feminine sprays and harsh soaps, water from the swimming pool and hot tubs, or chemicals in some washing powders. All these irritate the skin, resulting in vaginal dryness.
· Insufficient foreplay during sex, resulting in decreased secretions or lack of lubricant use.
· Psychological and emotional factors such as stress and anxiety, which lowers oestrogen levels.
How is vaginal dryness diagnosed?
By doing a vaginal exam. If the walls of vagina looks thin, dry and at times inflamed, it’s usually the case. This condition can also be detected through a Pap smear.
What are the treatment options for vaginal dryness?
There’s hormone-replacement therapy such as vaginal oestrogen. However, at its safe low-dose level, it’s really not that effective. Non-hormonal methods, such as lubricants are hardly effective as they do not treat the root cause, which is the lack of hormones. So, your best bet is the MonaLisa Touch laser therapy, an FDA-approved treatment for vaginal dryness, which many clinics in Singapore are offering. You can actually feel your vaginal walls becoming more moist and stretchy after a few sessions.
What happens when vaginal dryness is left untreated?
It leads to vaginal skin thinning and recurrent vaginal inflammation, infections and bleeding. This results in painful sex leading to no intercourse, which can affect a relationship.
Why are women afraid to talk about this condition?
It’s still taboo to talk about genital areas in the Asian society, which is why education is very important. Vaginal dryness is a very common problem and easy to treat with minimal discomfort, minimal complication and no down time, especially if you decide to try the MonaLisa Touch.
* Name changed to protect privacy.
GET TO KNOW OUR EXPERT…
Dr Christopher Chong is a urogynaecologist and obstetrician & gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital.
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