When a female stops having her menstrual periods permanently then she is said to have reached menopause. This happens when the ovarian follicular activity declines with age. The onset of menopause occurs on average after the age of 50. Once a female has reached menopause there are various physical and chemical changes that occur in the body. This is because of the alterations in the levels of various hormones specifically estrogen which results in various sexual and psychological changes in a female. There are also certain dermatological changes that occur when a female reaches menopause .
Majority of these changes are due to estrogen deficiency. Itching of the skin is one of the problems that a menopausal female has to go through. The itching sensation may be present all over the body, face, and at times the genital areas. This is because of the vital role that estrogen plays in the skin health of a female. Estrogen helps the skin stay moist by influencing the production of natural oils and collagen .
This hormone also helps the skin to stay flexible and not get rigid. Once the levels of estrogen declines after menopause it affects the ability of the skin to produce oils and collagen making it dry and itchy. This article explains all about menopausal itching and how to deal with it .
What Is Menopause Itching?
There are different types of itching that a female can have after menopause. These include
Skin Itching: This occurs due to excessive dryness of the skin. The estrogen deficiency is the primary cause for it. This causes the skin to become extremely sensitive and react to soaps, detergents, and lotions. All these products irritate the skin and cause itchiness. Some females in addition to the itchiness also have tingling and prickling sensation. The affected area may also become numb .
Some females complain of a sensation as if ants are crawling on the surface of the skin. This is medically referred to as formication. The severity of the itching ranges from mild to severe. In some cases the itching may be so severe that it may affect the quality of sleep of the female .
Some females develop a rash and erythema along with small bumps of the skin. If the itching sensation is severe and is accompanied by these symptoms then a consultation with a physician is recommended to rule out other dermatological conditions .
Genital Itching: This is another form of itching that a female may have after menopause. This is because the low levels of estrogen cause the vagina and other organs of the external genitalia to lose its elasticity and moisture. This causes the vagina to become dry and itchy. Itching on the vagina in medical terms is known as vulvar pruritus. The dryness and thinness of the vagina caused due to low estrogen levels is medically referred to as vaginal atrophy .
This also causes the vagina to feel itchy and painful. Some of the other factors which can cause vaginal itching are skin irritation as a result of soaps or lotions. This is often seen in menopausal females as the skin becomes extremely dry and sensitive to chemicals due to low estrogen levels. In rare cases, cancer around the vulvar region also causes itching around the genitals of a menopausal female .
Thus it is recommended that if a menopausal female experiences continuous itching of the vagina along with abnormal discharge or bleeding with a foul odor then she consult with a physician to get to the cause of it .
How To Deal With Menopausal Itching?
Coming to ways to deal with itchiness after menopause, generally over the counter lotions or creams may be quite effective in treating it. Steroid creams are the most preferred form of medication used to treat itching in menopausal females. Mild forms of steroid creams can be purchased over-the-counter but if these creams are not effective then a stronger cream may be needed which will have to be prescribed by a physician .
This cream works by soothing the skin and controlling the inflammation around the affected area. However, these creams should not be used for prolonged periods of time as it may lead to thinning of the skin and formation of blisters .
Anesthetic Creams: Topical anesthetics are also sometimes used for treatment of skin itching in menopausal females. These creams make the skin numb thus reducing the sensation or urge to itch. Again, this should only be used for a short period of time and should never be applied on a cut or bruised skin surface since it will worsen the irritation .
Antihistamines: This is normally used for allergic reactions but some studies have suggested that it can also be effective for treating itching due to menopause. This can be applied directly on the affected area by using as a topical agent and can also be taken orally for symptom relief .
Hormone Replacement Therapy: This form of treatment is mainly aimed at increasing the levels of estrogen in the body in menopausal females. Increasing estrogen levels will not only allow the skin to be moist and supple but also will help prevent vaginal dryness causing itching .
Even though itching is not the reason why female prefer hormone replacement therapy but it definitely helps with itching sensation. However, this therapy comes with a significant side effect profile and hence this treatment should only be done after thorough consultation with the physician .
b This is a novel way of treating symptoms of menopause and the efficacy of this treatment is still quite unknown. Phytoestrogens are compounds present in plants which have the ability to bind to the estrogen receptors and pretty much function the same way as the hormone estrogen does .
A study from 2014 has suggested that use of this plant based product can have the same efficacy as hormone replacement therapy with fewer side effects but more research needs to be done .
Aside from medical treatments, there are also certain home remedies which are quite effective in treating itching after menopause. Certain dietary and lifestyle modifications when made can take care of the itching sensation. These home remedies include:
Cool Compresses: Applying cool compresses over the affected area for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day for a few days will provide excellent relief from the symptoms of itching. In case if itching is so severe that it interferes with sleep then wrapping a cool towel over the affected region overnight can be quite effective .
Oatmeal Bath: This is yet another effective way of relieving itching that occurs with menopause. The form of oatmeal used for this is present in the powdered form. This powder should be mixed with warm water and the female should bathe in the mixture. The fiber and other ingredients present in the oatmeal get absorbed by the skin and give it a soothing effect. Powdered oatmeal which is also called as colloidal oatmeal can be easily purchased at pharmacy stores .
Moisturizer: Once a female has reached menopause, it will be essential to use moisturizers on a daily basis to prevent the skin from drying up. Dry skin is one of the most common complaints that females who reach menopause have. A moisturizer should be used after bathing will keep the skin surface moist for a longer period of time and reduce the itching sensation .
It is always advisable to select a moisturizer which is perfume free to prevent any allergies or sensitivities to worsen the situation. The best moisturizer that can be used is aloe vera gel. Coconut oil is also an excellent moisturizer .
In conclusion, it is common for females to have itchy skin after menopause. This is basically due to low levels of estrogen. This affects the ability of the skin to produce natural oils and collagen which are essential for keeping the skin moist and supple. Excessive dryness of the skin is what that causes itching. The itching sensation can be over the body or the genital areas. Vaginal dryness is the most common cause of menopause itching. Again estrogen is the hormone that is responsible for it [1, 2].
A depleted level of estrogen causes the external genitalia especially the vagina to lose its elasticity, lubrication, and thickness. This is what results in the female having an itching sensation. If the itching sensation in the genital region is accompanied by other symptoms like rashes, bumps, or lumps on the skin surface then the female should consult with a physician to rule out any more serious cause for the condition and start treatment for it [1, 2].
Treatment for menopause itching in majority of the cases includes over-the-counter steroid creams for mild cases. In females where the severity of itching is moderate to severe then the physician will prescribe a stronger steroid cream. Other than this, some studies have suggested that antihistamines are also quite effective for treating menopause itching. Hormone replacement therapy is the most preferred approach for treatment of various symptoms due to menopause including itching [1, 2].
It should be noted however that the symptoms caused after menopause including menopause itching are temporary and should improve with time as the body adjusts to the alteration of the hormones [1, 2].
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