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Thrush

Thrush is a very common infection. It is caused by yeast, known as candida, which usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina.

Usually it causes no problems, but under certain conditions the yeast multiplies causing a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Thrush can affect the vagina, mouth or head of the penis. Vaginal thrush is very common and around three-quarters of women will experience it at some point.

Where does it come from?

Thrush is not usually transmitted sexually, but having sex can irritate the vagina and make symptoms more obvious.

Most women will have an episode of thrush at least once in their lifetime. For a small group of women, troublesome, recurrent thrush can occur for no apparent reason.

Other factors that can encourage candida to multiply and result in thrush include:

  • Taking antibiotics (some women develop thrush after taking antibiotics and other medication for another illness)
  • Using a vaginal deodorant or perfumed bubble bath
  • Using perfumed fabric softener
  • Using baby or alcohol wipes on the genital skin
  • Broken skin which is inflamed and irritated
  • Wearing nylon underwear or tight-fitting trousers (a moist, warm environment helps the yeast to flourish)
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes.

Thrush can also affect men, particularly those who are not circumcised or those who have diabetes.

Symptoms

Symptoms of thrush can appear when candida yeast multiplies in the vagina. Usually the candida yeast is prevented from multiplying and causing discomfort by other harmless bacteria living in and on the body. However, when these conditions change, symptoms of thrush can occur. Symptoms of thrush include:

  • Itching, soreness and swelling around the genital area
  • A thick, white discharge
  • Burning discomfort during sex
  • Pain when peeing.

If you think that you may have thrush, speak to your doctor, nurse who can offer treatment on the basis of your symptoms.

If you have had it before you can buy treatment over the counter in a pharmacy but if it is your first time you should get checked by a doctor to confirm that you have thrush and not an STI.

If thrush recurs frequently or doesn’t clear up after treatment you should go back to your GP.

Testing

The doctor may be able to confirm you have thrush from your symptoms or they may take a swab to take a sample of cells from the vagina. A swab looks a bit like a cotton bud and collecting a sample only takes a few minutes. Although this is not painful, it may be a little uncomfortable for a moment.

If they suspect you have an STI they may do more tests. They may also test for diabetes if they think this could be the cause of your thrush.

Treatment

There are a number of anti-thrush treatments:

  • An anti-thrush pessary. A pessary is an anti-thrush medication that you insert into the vagina using an applicator that's provided in the same way as a tampon. You cannot feel the pessary after it has been inserted and it works inside the vagina to clear the thrush.
  • An anti-thrush cream to deal with candida on the skin around the entrance to the vagina.
  • Anti-thrush tablets to be taken by mouth.

The treatments can be given by your doctor or bought over the counter from the pharmacy. Some treatments will contain two different types of treatment (such as cream and pessary).

Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice.

Always tell the doctor or nurse if you are pregnant or think you might be, or if you are breastfeeding. This may affect the type of treatment you are given.

You will not pass on thrush to your partner if you have sex during an episode of the infection. However, sex can be painful when you have thrush so is best avoided until your symptoms have gone.

Although it’s uncommon for men to actually get thrush, men can get a slight ‘allergic reaction’ to the thrush yeast if they have unprotected sex with a woman who does. This will usually show itself in the man by itching and redness of the head of the penis after sex. It usually settles down on its own but an anti-thrush cream can also help.

Prevention

Some women experience repeat infections of thrush, and it is not clear what causes this. If this becomes a problem, discuss your options with a doctor, nurse or health advisor.

There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of thrush:

  • Avoid wearing tights, nylon underwear or tight trousers or jeans
  • Avoid using perfumed soaps or bubble bath, vaginal deodorants and disinfectants
  • Stop using perfumed fabric softener when washing towels and underwear
  • Consider washing your body with a soap substitute (your pharmacist can advise what's best for you)
  • Avoid using baby or alcohol wipes on your genital skin
  • After going to the toilet, always wipe from the front to the back to avoid transferring germs to the vagina
  • If you get thrush when you use antibiotics, it may be worth asking your doctor to prescribe treatment for thrush at the same time.

Thrush is not usually passed on to someone else, for example by having sex, so your partner probably won’t need treatment for thrush.

Men are less likely to get thrush, although some men can develop an irritation as a result of a reaction to the yeast.

If it is necessary to treat your partner, a cream can help. Talk with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice.

It's worth noting that there is no evidence that natural yoghurt prevents or reduces the symptoms of thrush. Changing your diet isn't thought to help either.

 

For more information call  0800 22 44 88 or use our sexual health service finder to look for help in your area.