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Thrush

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What is thrush?

Thrush is the term used for a common infection caused by a yeast like fungus called candida albicans. Thrush is also known as candidiasis.

Vaginal thrush is a very common infection that affects women of all ages and most women will get thrush at least once during their lives.

What causes thrush?

Thrush is caused by a yeast that normally lives harmlessly in the body. Yeasts like warm and moist conditions and so can develop in areas like this, for example the mouth and vagina. The yeast is usually kept under control by harmless bacteria but sometimes conditions change and yeast can grow. Thrush is particularly common because of hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or in women under the age of 20.

Other reasons why the yeast may grow, causing thrush to develop, include:

  • If you suffer from diabetes and your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled.
  • If you are ill, run down or short of sleep.
  • Taking the contraceptive pill.
  • Taking certain antibiotics may cause infection as they kill the good bacteria in the vagina, allowing the yeast to multiply and cause infection.
  • Having sex with someone who has a thrush infection.

Thrush can also cause nappy rash in babies and mouth infections in the elderly.

What are the symptoms of thrush?

Even though thrush is usually associated with women, men can also get thrush. Thrush is more likely to develop in men who have not been  circumcised. Men should get used to washing under their foreskin as part of their daily routine.

Symptoms in women include: –

  • Itching and soreness around the vagina and vulva causing redness and inflammation.
  • A thick, white discharge from the vagina, which looks like cottage cheese and is usually odourless.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Pain or stinging when passing urine.

Symptoms in men include: –

  • Irritation, burning or itching under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis.
  • Red patches at the tip of the penis or under the foreskin.
  • Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin.
  • Discomfort when passing urine.
  • A thick discharge under the foreskin.

Sometimes thrush might cause no symptoms at all and is picked up by chance during a routine smear test.

How is thrush diagnosed?

If you go to your doctor he/she may diagnose you based on your description. Your doctor might want to examine your genital area and ask you questions about your symptoms. If your doctor is not sure then they might take a sample using a cotton wool swab (like a cotton bud), this will be examined under a microscope to look for the presence of yeast. You may also be asked to give a urine sample.

We have a simple test on this website which can be used to indicate whether an abnormal vaginal discharge is caused by bacterial, parasitic infections or yeast infection(thrush). For more information on this test or to buy click here.

How is thrush treated?

Thrush is cured easily by antifungal treatments that stop the growth of the yeast. If you have had thrush before and are confident that is what you have, then these treatments can be purchased ‘over the counter’ from pharmacies without prescription. These treatments can be in the form of a cream, pessary (a tablet that is inserted into the vagina, like the way you would insert a tampon) or tablets. It is usually recommended to use both the cream and pessary as the cream can help soothe the irritation immediately.

When should I go to the doctor?

Once you have had thrush you will then recognise it if you get it again. However, if you have an itch and a discharge that you have not had before, you should visit your doctor or local G.U.M. clinic. You should also visit your doctor if :

  • You have not had thrush before.
  • You are pregnant or think you might be.
  • You have had more than 2 attacks of thrush in the last 6 months.
  • You have any abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • You are under the age of 16 or over 60.
  • You have abdominal (stomach) pain.
  • You have any blisters or sores in the genital area.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • You have diabetes.
  • There is no improvement after 7 days of treatment.

How can I avoid another attack of thrush?

Some people are more prone to thrush than others and there is no simple way to avoid it, however there are some measures, which may help prevent a further infection, these are as follows :

  • Avoid wearing tight or synthetic clothing.
  • Wear cotton or silk underwear as an alternative to nylon and mixed fibres.
  • Wear stockings instead of tights and skirts instead of trousers.
  • During your period use pads instead of tampons.
  • Wash outside the vagina carefully every day and try to avoid perfumed soaps. There are a number of soap free and specially formulated shower gels ideal for cleaning the vagina.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics.
  • Wash and dry underwear thoroughly, dampness increases the chances of thrush.

Thrush isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, but it may sometimes be passed on during sex so try to avoid sex during an infection. It may also be a good idea for your partner to be treated as well.

The symptoms of thrush may go away without treatment but it can get very sore, complications are very rare.

If your thrush keeps returning your doctor might suggest a course of antifungal tablets.

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