Thrush, also called candidiasis, is a common infection that can affect both men and women. Its symptoms can be annoying but they usually disappear after a few days of treatment.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a fungal infection caused by the yeast candida and can affect various body parts, including the vulva, vagina or penis, as well as the mouth and the skin.
Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), as you can get thrush whether you're sexually active or not. However, thrush can be triggered by sex and can be passed on during sex.
What are the causes?
Many of us have candida in our bodies without it causing any problems. Sometimes, the number of yeast cells multiplies to cause an infection. Factors that can affect this include:
• Changes in hormones, such as during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or while taking the contraceptive pill
• During or after a course of antibiotics
• Poorly controlled diabetes
• An iron deficiency
• A weakened immune system, for example, after chemotherapy or in people with certain conditions such as diabetes or HIV
What are the symptoms of thrush in women?
You may notice the following if you have vulval or vaginal thrush:
• White discharge, often compared to cottage cheese, which usually does not smell
• Irritation of the vulva
• Burning or stinging when passing urine or having sex
Thrush in men
Thrush can affect the head of the penis in men and symptoms include:
• Irritation, burning and redness around the head of the penis and under the foreskin
• White 'cottage-cheese' discharge
• An unpleasant smell
• Difficulty pulling back the foreskin
How do I treat thrush?
You'll need anti-fungal medicines to help treat thrush. It usually clears up within a week. Thrush can be treated using a cream or a tablet (pessary) which should be inserted high into the vagina, using a special applicator. Another option is an anti-fungal capsule which can be taken by mouth. In addition to one of these treatments, a cream can be applied to the genital area, to help relieve irritation and itching. Speak to your pharmacist and they will be able to recommend the most suitable treatment for you.
When should I visit my GP?
If you have symptoms of thrush for the first time, make sure you see your GP for a diagnosis, as they can rule out other conditions. Similarly, if you get thrush regularly, or your symptoms don't seem to clear up after initial treatment, check with your GP. They can see if there's an underlying issue causing it. You may also want to visit a sexual health clinic. Here you'll be checked for other conditions other than thrush before getting treatment, since some STIs can have similar symptoms.
Make sure you also visit your GP if you think you have thrush and:
• You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
• You are under 16 or over 60 years of age
• Have a weakened immune system
How can I help relieve discomfort & prevent thrush?
• Use water and an emollient, rather than soap, to wash your genital area
• Take showers instead of baths
• Dry skin thoroughly
• Avoid having sex until symptoms have cleared up
• Wear properly fitting cotton underwear
• Speak to your pharmacist if you think you have thrush. They will be able to give you treatment or advise you to see a GP
• Visit your GP or a sexual health clinic if you're not sure whether you have thrush or an STI
• Keep the area dry and avoid using soap to wash the affected area