What is Thrush?

Thrush, also known as candidiasis, monilia or a yeast infection, is a common fungal infection that typically affects the mouth, nipples or vagina. It is caused by a microorganism called Candida albicans. It is usually present in the body in small numbers. When the normal balance of microorganisms in your body is upset, Candida can overgrow, leading to thrush.

Thrush is not usually very serious, but can be irritating. It can be treated with antifungal medications or creams that are applied to the affected area. 

Signs and symptoms

Thrush is a fungal infection that can affect different areas. The most commonly-affected areas are the mouth, breast and nipples and vagina.

Oral thrush

If you have oral thrush you may experience:

  • White sores or patches in the mouth or tongue;
  • Redness or soreness in the affected areas, and;
  • Difficulty swallowing.

Open mouth showing white patches on the tongue and back of the throat.Oral thrush causes white patches in the mouth or on the tongue. 

Breast and nipple thrush

If you have breast or nipple thrush you may experience:

  • Itching or a burning sensation on the nipples or breast;
  • Breast or nipple pain;
  • Red or bright pink nipples, and;
  • White rash on the nipples.

Vaginal thrush

Women with vaginal thrush may experience:

  • Itching and irritation around the vagina;
  • Swelling around the vagina;
  • Thick white discharge from the vagina;
  • Pain when passing urine, and;
  • Pain during sex.

Men can also get thrush, but it is less common in men than in women. Men with thrush may experience a red and itchy rash on their penis.

Causes and risk factors

Thrush is a common fungal infection caused by a microorganism called Candida albicans. It is a yeast that usually lives in small numbers in the intestines, vagina or mouth. It does not usually cause any problems, but certain factors can upset the balance of Candida in your body, causing it to overgrow and lead to thrush.

Some of the things that may increase your chance of getting thrush include:

  • Having diabetes;
  • Treatment with certain medications, such as antibiotics or cortisone;
  • Being pregnant;
  • Having sex;
  • Taking an oral contraceptive pill;
  • Wearing tight-fitting pants or nylon underwear, and;
  • Humid weather.

Diabetes

A metabolic disorder that is caused by problems with insulin secretion and regulation and which is characterized by high blood sugar levels. Also known as diabetes mellitus.

Intestines

The part of the digestive system from the stomach to the anus.

Methods for diagnosis

To work out if you have thrush, your doctor may examine the affected area and take a swab. This can be sent to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope to look for Candida. The swab sample may also be applied to an agar plate that selectively grows organisms, such as bacteria and yeasts, to look for the presence of Candida.

Yeasts

A single-celled fungus that can causes infections. Candida, the cause of thrush, is an example of a yeast.

Types of treatment

Oral thrush

If you have oral thrush, your doctor may prescribe some antifungal medications, such as a nystatin mouthwash or miconazole gel, which is applied directly to the affected area. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an oral medication such as fluconazole.

Breast and nipple thrush

Breast and nipple thrush may be treated with medicated antifungal gels or creams that can be applied to the affected site.

Vaginal thrush

If you have vaginal thrush, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication, such as clotrimazole, which can either be applied to the affected area as a tablet that is placed inside the vagina (vaginal tablet) or a cream that is injected into the vagina with an applicator. The cream may also be applied externally to the genital area to help relieve symptoms. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication such as fluconazole.

As well as medication, there are some simple things that you can do at home that may help relieve the symptoms of vaginal thrush, including:

  • Wearing loose-fitting cotton pants and underwear;
  • Avoiding having sex, and;
  • Gently bathing the affected area and avoiding soaps and irritants.

Prognosis

Thrush is not usually very serious. Some mild cases may clear up on their own, without any medical treatment. A doctor can prescribe antifungal medications to help clear the infection. Some people may experience repeated episodes of thrush.

In some cases, thrush can come back after it has been treated. If you experience repeated episodes of thrush, it is best to identify and manage any factors that may be contributing to the infection, such as medications or diabetes.

Diabetes

A metabolic disorder that is caused by problems with insulin secretion and regulation and which is characterized by high blood sugar levels. Also known as diabetes mellitus.

Prevention

Oral thrush

You may reduce your chance of getting oral thrush if you:

  • Follow a healthy diet;
  • Rinse your mouth after eating;
  • Practice good oral hygiene, which means brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and;
  • Having regular dental check-ups.

Breast and nipple thrush

The chance of developing breast and nipple thrush may be reduced by keeping the area around your nipples dry. This is because thrush grows best in warm and moist places.

Vaginal thrush

You may be able to reduce your chance of getting vaginal thrush by:

  • Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear and pants;
  • Avoiding using soaps around the genital area (they can cause irritation);
  • Drying the genital area thoroughly after washing, and;
  • Washing your hands after going to the toilet.