Vaginal dryness and irritation can affect the inside of the vagina as well as the tissues around the vaginal opening. Your vulva (the area outside your vagina) can become so sensitive that it may be hard to sit, walk or run long distances, or have any sexual contact there. Vaginal intercourse/penetration can become uncomfortable or even painful, as can gynecologic exams. Itching can be a problem, and you may experience burning on urination involving your urethra (the opening through which your urine comes out) and the sensitive tissues right around it (the vulva).
If you have these symptoms, you’ll first want to make sure there isn’t an underlying infection causing them (visit the Vaginal Infections page for more information). There are steps you can take to feel more comfortable, resolve your pain, and enjoy vaginal intercourse/penetration again. As with other menopausal symptoms, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been found to help with vaginal dryness and irritation, but it’s generally not recommended for women who’ve had breast cancer (visit Hormone Replacement Therapy for a more complete explanation).
There are treatments that can help moisturize the vaginal tissues and make them more supple. It’s best to start with non-hormonal moisturizers and lubricants, which are available over the counter, online, or by mail order. If these don’t provide enough relief, you can talk to your doctor about using a local, low-dose estrogen (in pill, cream, or ring form) applied directly to the vagina.
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