Thrush is usually caused by a yeast fungus called candida albicans. It isn’t a sexually transmitted infection.
Candida albicans usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina.
Occasionally, however, signs and symptoms can develop. This is commonly known as thrush, thrush infection or candida.
How do I get thrush?
Your chances of developing thrush increase if you:
- are pregnant
- wear tight clothing (such as tight jeans) or synthetic clothing (such as nylon underwear)
- are taking antibiotics
- are having chemotherapy
- have uncontrolled diabetes, HIV or other illnesses that affect your immune system
- use products that may irritate the vagina, such as vaginal deodorant or perfumed bubble bath or shower gel
Symptoms of thrush
Some people won’t have any signs or symptoms at all. If you do get symptoms you might notice:
- soreness and redness or fissures (like paper cuts) around the vagina or anus
- unusual, white discharge from the vagina that may be thick and look like cottage cheese – it sometimes smells yeasty
- pain when peeing or having sex
Testing for thrush
If you think you may have thrush, a test can be done at your GP practice, your local sexual health service or in some pharmacies.
It’s not always necessary to have a test for thrush. If you do have a test, a doctor or nurse may:
- look at the genital area
- use a swab (cotton bud) to collect a sample from the parts of the body that could be affected such as the vagina
It only takes a few seconds and isn’t usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment. You may also be asked to take this swab yourself.
Thrush may have similar symptoms to some STI's, so it’s important you seek advice if you think may be at risk of an STI.
Treatment for thrush
Treatment is simple and only necessary if you have signs and symptoms of thrush.
You may be given antifungal cream to apply to the genital area, vaginal pessaries (tablets that you put into your vagina), oral pills or a combination.
The doctor or nurse will tell you how to use the treatment.
You can buy some antifungal treatments from a pharmacy. These are useful if you’re sure you have thrush and want to treat it yourself. The pharmacist will answer any questions and explain how to use the treatment.
It’s very important to take the treatment as instructed and finish any course of treatment even if the symptoms go away earlier.
Some antifungal products can weaken latex condoms, diaphragms and caps. So avoid sex while undergoing treatment if this is your method of contraception.
You should tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you’re pregnant, might be pregnant, or if you’re breastfeeding. This may affect the type of treatment you’re given.
If thrush isn't treated it eventually goes away on it's own.
There’s no need for your partner(s) to have treatment unless they have signs and symptoms of thrush.
Some people find that different triggers cause vaginal thrush. If you notice a pattern, you may be able to help control it.
For example, you should avoid wearing tight, restrictive or synthetic clothing, such as:
- nylon underwear
- lycra shorts
- tight jeans or trousers
You should also make sure your vagina is well lubricated before and during sexual intercourse and wash and wipe your genital area from front to back after using the toilet.
Avoid using soap and deodorants near the genital area, including genital sprays, bubble bath, and any other irritants such as disinfectants and antiseptics.
If you’re prescribed an antibiotic for another condition, remind your doctor that you tend to get thrush and ask for some preventive treatment for thrush at the same time.
Some people may only get thrush once. Others may get it multiple times. Getting thrush four or more times in a year is called recurrent thrush. If this happens, get medical advice and don’t treat it yourself.
If you get recurrent thrush the doctor or nurse will want to check that other conditions, such as diabetes, aren’t the cause of the thrush.
They will also check the type of thrush you have is the most effective treatment and may suggest you take antifungal treatment on a regular basis.
You should stop using soap and use an emollient (soap substitute) instead and this will help you to identify any thrush triggers.