Thrush is usually caused by a yeast fungus called candida albicans. It is not a sexually transmitted infection.
Candida albicans usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina.
Occasionally there can be too much yeast and it can cause symptoms. This is commonly known as thrush, thrush infection or candida.
How do I get thrush?
Your chances of developing thrush increase if:
- your skin is irritated or damaged
- you use products that irritate the skin such as perfumed products, bubble baths or vaginal washing products
- you've recently taken antibiotics
- you have poorly controlled diabetes
- you have a weakened immune system – for example you're having chemotherapy or living with HIV
- you're pregnant
Symptoms of thrush
Some people won’t have any signs or symptoms of thrush at all.
Thrush symptoms in women
If you do get symptoms you might notice:
- unusual, white, thick vaginal discharge (often like cottage cheese)
- itching and irritation or fissure (like paper cuts) around the vagina
- pain when peeing or having sex
Thrush symptoms in men
If you do get symptoms you might notice:
- irritation, burning and redness around the head of the penis and under the foreskin
- a white discharge under the foreskin or on the head of the penis
- an unpleasant smell
- difficulty pulling back the foreskin
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 STIs, so it’s important you seek advice if you think you 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
- a combination of treatments
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 its 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.
Avoid using soap and use an emollient (soap substitute) instead.
Make sure your vagina is well lubricated before and during sexual intercourse.
Avoid wearing tight, restrictive or synthetic clothing, such as tights, nylon underwear, leggings, lycra shorts, tight jeans or trousers.
Avoid using soap and deodorants near the genital area, including:
- genital sprays or washes
- bubble bath
- 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 4 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'll also check the type of thrush you have to guide the most effective treatment. They may suggest you take antifungal treatment on a regular basis.