Thrush

What is it?

Thrush (also known as candida) is a yeast infection. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). This yeast lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina. Normally it is kept under control by harmless bacteria. Occasionally, however, conditions in the vagina change and the yeast increases rapidly, causing an infection. Thrush can affect both men and women. Thrush is very common and many women are affected by vaginal thrush at some point in their lives and, in some women, it recurs regularly.

How do you get it?

  • Antibiotics - thrush occurs in about 30% of women who are taking a course of antibiotics
  • Pregnancy - if you are pregnant, changes in the levels of female sex hormones, make you more likely to develop thrush.
  • Diabetes - if poorly controlled, you are more likely to develop thrush.
  • Immunodeficiency - if your immune system is weakened by a condition, such as HIV, or AIDS, your risk of developing thrush is increased
  • Tight-fitting clothing - such as tights, may increase your chances of developing thrush.
  • Products that can cause irritation to the vagina such as perfumed bubble bath or vaginal deoderant 

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of vaginal thrush include:

Women

  • vulval itching or irritation (the vulva is the lips around the opening to the vagina)
  • vulval soreness and sometimes swelling
  • vaginal discharge - it is often white and 'cheese-like', but may also be watery
  • pain during sex
  • stinging and burning when peeing

Men

  • irritation, burning or itching under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis
  • redness, or red patches, under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis
  • a thin or thicker discharge, like cottage cheese, under the foreskin
  • difficulty in pulling back the foreskin
  • stinging and burning when peeing

Testing for thrush

You can only be certain you have thrush if you have a test. If you think that you may have thrush you can speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. It is important that you don’t delay seeking advice if you think you may have been at risk of a sexually transmitted infection.

Women

A doctor or nurse will:

  • use a swab to collect a sample of cells from the vagina, during an internal examination
  • look at the vagina and genital area

Sometimes thrush signs will be noticed during a cervical smear test, but you will only need treatment if you have problems with discharge or itching.

Men

A doctor or nurse will:

  • look at the penis and genital area
  • use a swab to collect a sample of cells from the genital area including under the foreskin

A swab looks a bit like a cotton bud, but is smaller, soft and rounded. The swab picks up samples of discharge and cells. It only takes a few seconds and is not usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment.

Routine blood tests do not detect infections such as thrush. It is important to remember that vaginal thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Your partner will not need to be tested, or treated, for the condition unless they also have symptoms. However, if you are at all concerned about STIs, you should talk to your GP about being tested.

Treatment

Treatment is simple for both men and women and is only necessary if you have signs and symptoms of thrush. You can get treatment from your GP or sexual health clinic. You can also buy treatments for thrush from pharmacies – these are useful for anyone who is sure they have thrush and wants to treat themselves. The pharmacist will be able to advise if you have any questions, or are unsure how to use the treatment. To treat thrush you may be recommended a short course of antifungal medicine.

Treatments for thrush can be taken either by mouth (orally), or by inserting them into your vagina (known as intravaginal pessaries). Topical creams are also available to treat sore parts of the vulva. Some antifungal products can weaken latex condoms, diaphragms and caps. Ask the doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice. Do tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are pregnant, or think you might be, or you are breastfeeding. This will affect the type of treatment that you are given. Some women find that complementary therapies, such as bathing the genital area with diluted tea tree oil gel or live plain yoghurt, help relieve the symptoms of vaginal thrush.

Some women find different triggers cause vaginal thrush. If you notice a pattern, you may be able to help control it. For example:

  • Avoid wearing tight, restrictive or synthetic clothing, such as tights, nylon underwear, leggings, lycra shorts, and tight jeans or trousers
  • Avoid perfumed soap, bubble bath, genital sprays and deodorants, and any other irritants such as disinfectants and antiseptics
  • Make sure the vagina is well lubricated before sexual intercourse
  • Women should wash and wipe the genital area from front to back
  • If you are prescribed an antibiotic for another condition, remind your doctor that you tend to get thrush and ask for some treatment for thrush at the same time.

More information

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