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Thrush

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Thrush is caused by a yeast called candida and can be responsible for infections in the mouth, on the skin, and around the genital area. Doctors call the infection candidiasis, but it’s known to most as thrush.

Thrush infections are more common during pregnancy, when taking antibiotics, or those prone to infections due to other medical conditions, such as poorly controlled diabetes or immunosuppression. It is common in the mouths of children and babies, and can be common in people who wear dentures. Most women will suffer from a vaginal thrush infection at some point in their life.

Thrush infections are easily treated with antifungal medications. Depending on where your infection is and how widespread, these come in the form of oral drops, vaginal products, creams, or tablets.

How do I know if I have a thrush infection?

A thrush infection in the mouth (oral thrush) usually gives it deep red appearance with white patches on the surface. The white patches can be rubbed off, and may lead to slight bleeding underneath if you do so. It can cause pain, changes to your sense of taste, and it may be sore when you eat and drink (for babies they may avoid feeding as it’s painful).

Some women with vaginal thrush will not have any signs or symptoms, and be completely unaware they have thrush. A cervical screening test may pick up the presence of thrush by chance. In women, typical symptoms of vaginal thrush include vulval itching, soreness, redness and irritation, vaginal discharge, often white (like cottage cheese) and this can be thick or thin but usually odorless, pain or discomfort during sex or when urinating, and redness of the vagina and vulva. In men, symptoms may be less noticeable than in women but include discomfort, burning or itching at the tip of the penis or under the foreskin, redness or red patches on the penis or under the foreskin, a thick or thin discharge like cottage cheese under the foreskin, and discomfort when passing urine.

Thrush infection does not always need to be treated, but if it is bothersome or prolonged, then seek an antifungal medication. To help ease and prevent vaginal thrush, wash your vaginal area with simple non-perfumed soap and water or water alone and avoid using highly scented soaps, shower gels, vaginal deodorants, or douches. If you find that latex condoms, spermicidal creams, and lubricants cause irritation avoid using them and try using a non-allergenic condom. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes made of artificial fibers such as nylon and whenever possible, wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes rather than tight ones.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have symptoms of oral thrush, pain, or any soreness when eating and drinking, then speak to your doctor for further advice.

For vaginal symptoms, speak to your doctor if a child has symptoms. You can try some treatment from your pharmacist if an adult has symptoms, and speak to your doctor if the symptoms do not improve or you are unsure whether it is a thrush infection.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should make the pharmacist or doctor aware – you can still be treated, but not all antifungals are safe to take.

Am I fit for work?

If you have a thrush infection, you are likely fit for work.

What will the doctor do?

If you see your doctor, they will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. If the diagnosis is in doubt, they make take a swab or order blood tests or urine tests, depending on their assessment. The doctor may also prescribe some medication to help with your symptoms or clear the infection.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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