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What is thrush?

What is thrush?

Stefano Mirabello NowPatientGreen tick
Created on 31 Aug 2023
Updated on 16 Jul 2024

Thrush is a common yet often misunderstood condition that many people experience at some point in their lives. This fungal infection, also known as candidiasis, can affect different body parts, such as the mouth, genitals and skin, and may cause uncomfortable symptoms. In this blog post, we aim to shed light on what thrush is, what causes it, and how to treat and prevent it.

What causes thrush?

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of Candida Albicans, a fungus that exists in small amounts in the mouth, digestive tract and genital area of healthy individuals. However, certain factors can trigger the overgrowth of Candida Albicans, leading to thrush.

Several factors can contribute to the development of thrush, including a weakened immune system, the use of antibiotics or corticosteroids, hormonal changes, certain contraception, diabetes and other health conditions. When your immune system is not functioning properly, it can create an environment where fungi like the ones responsible for thrush can thrive.

Antibiotic use can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in your body, creating an opportunity for fungal overgrowth. Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, can also make you more susceptible to thrush. Finally, people with diabetes are more likely to develop thrush due to high levels of glucose in their saliva, which can promote fungal growth.

If you suspect that you may have a thrush infection, it’s important to talk to your doctor so that they can help you identify the underlying cause and develop an effective treatment plan.

Is thrush a yeast infection?

Thrush is a type of fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida yeast. So, yes, thrush is indeed a yeast infection. The term “yeast infection” is used to describe this condition because the Candida fungus belongs to the same family as yeast. It typically affects the mouth and throat but can also spread to other parts of the body.

Is thrush an STD?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of thrush, it’s understandable to feel uneasy and wonder if it could be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, thrush is not an STD. Thrush is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). but can be triggered by sex. In fact, many people who have never had sexual contact can develop thrush.

What are the symptoms of thrush?

Symptoms of oral thrush

If you have oral thrush, you may experience discomfort while swallowing, a burning sensation in the mouth, loss of taste and sometimes cracked or red patches in the mouth. Your tongue or inner cheeks may also develop raised lesions with a cottage cheese-like appearance and you may have soreness and mild bleeding. In infants and children, thrush can cause fussiness, irritability and difficulty feeding.

Symptoms of genital thrush

The main symptom of vaginal yeast infection (thrush) in women is a very itchy and sore vagina and vulva, which can sometimes be accompanied by a thick white discharge that resembles cottage cheese. Women may also experience pain or discomfort during sex or when urinating.

Men experiencing genital thrush may notice itching, soreness and discomfort around the head of the penis, as well as a white, odourless discharge. In some cases, the skin may become red and inflamed, making it painful to touch.

In severe cases, thrush can spread to other parts of the body, leading to fever and chills. If you have thrush in the oesophagus or lungs, you may experience difficulty swallowing or breathing. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is essential to see your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

How is thrush diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have thrush, you should see a doctor or dentist who will examine your mouth or genitals, ask about your medical history and perform tests to confirm the diagnosis. These may include taking a swab of the affected area, culture tests, blood tests and imaging tests.

How is thrush treated?

If you’re experiencing thrush, you’re probably wondering what your treatment options are.

How to treat oral thrush

Oral thrush is often treated with antifungal medications in the form of lozenges, mouthwash or tablets. These medications are designed to target the fungus causing the infection while leaving healthy bacteria unharmed.

How to treat genital thrush

Genital thrush can affect both men and women. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help alleviate your symptoms and get you back to feeling like yourself again. Women can use antifungal creams, tablets and pessaries, specifically designed for vaginal thrush, while men can also use creams and tablets to treat thrush on the penis. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any treatment. Your doctor or pharmacist can provide advice on the best course of action for you.

Medications

Common antifungal medicines used to treat oral and genital thrush are fluconazole and clotrimazole. They are available over the counter or through a prescription from your healthcare provider. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully and use the treatment as directed, even if your symptoms start to improve quickly. You should tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you’re pregnant, might be pregnant or if you’re breastfeeding. This may affect the type of treatment you’re given.

Probiotics

One treatment that’s been getting some attention is the use of probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of your gut microbiome, which can in turn boost your overall immune system. When it comes to thrush, probiotics may be able to help by limiting the growth of the Candida albicans fungus that causes the infection. While research is still ongoing and not everyone may benefit from probiotics, it may be worth discussing with your healthcare provider whether it may be a useful addition to your thrush treatment plan.

How to prevent candida infections from returning

It’s important to keep in mind that after treatment, you may need to take additional steps to prevent the infection from returning:

How to prevent oral thrush?

Maintaining good oral hygiene is key, as fungal infections thrive in moist environments. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily to keep your mouth clean and dry. Avoid using mouthwashes or sprays that contain alcohol, as they can dry out your mouth and create an environment that’s susceptible to infection. Additionally, keep your dentures, inhalers and mouthguards clean and dry by regularly soaking and sanitising them. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also boost your immune system and help prevent the recurrence of oral thrush. By taking a few simple steps, you can keep thrush at bay and enjoy a healthier, happier smile.

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How to prevent genital thrush?

Firstly, make sure to wear comfortable breathable clothing, to allow air to circulate in the genital area. Also, avoid wearing tight-fitting pants or underwear. Secondly, try to maintain good genital hygiene, especially after sexual activity. Mild, fragrance-free soap and water should suffice. Do not use douches, deodorants, shower gel or perfumed sprays on your vagina or penis.

Lastly, keeping your blood sugar levels in check is crucial, especially for those with diabetes, as high sugar levels can encourage the growth of yeast. Remember, prevention is always better than cure, and by following these simple tips, you can reduce the likelihood of experiencing genital thrush in the future.

Seek medical advice

Thrush is a common and treatable infection that can affect anyone, but it is more common in women, children, and people with certain medical conditions. If you suspect that you have thrush, you should see a doctor or dentist for medical advice. Remember, thrush can be prevented by practising good hygiene, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding the unnecessary use of antibiotics and corticosteroids. Don’t let thrush take over your health, be proactive and seek medical help if necessary.

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NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information on this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

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