What is Thrush? Your Top Questions, Answered
We answer the most frequently asked questions about thrush, from causes and symptoms to treatments and prevention.
Updated: Monday 24 January 2022
Thrush is a very common yeast infection, particularly prevalent in women, caused by the overgrowth of the candida fungus . Despite it usually being harmless, the symptoms are often unpleasant and uncomfortable. There are a few common misconceptions about thrush which we aim to dispel by answering the most commonly-asked questions about the condition.
1. What is Thrush?
Thrush, referring to overgrowth of the candida fungus, can appear in a few different forms on the body, leaving spots that can cause irritation. Among adults, the most common form of thrush is genital thrush, appearing either on the vagina or penis. Oral thrush in babies and older adults with immunodeficiency can occur on the tongue and in the mouth, but is less common in healthy adults. Thrush can also develop on other areas of the body if the conditions are suitable for fungus overgrowth, such as the armpits, groin or between the fingers. Invasive candidiasis is a more serious but far less common infection caused by the candida yeast entering the bloodstream, usually through medical equipment in hospitals or nursing homes .
This article will focus on genital and oral thrush, the two most common forms of thrush.
2. What Causes Thrush?
Thrush is caused by the candida fungus growing in excess, when warm and moist conditions allow for the candida to multiply fast and cause an overgrowth. Genital thrush may develop after sex, but it is not a classed as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). The causes of genital thrush include the following:
- Hormone changes in women
- Using perfumed bathing products
- Not properly drying your genital area after washing
Other risk factors include:
- Other underlying health conditions that weaken the immune system
The same candida yeast is responsible for thrush in the mouth, with approximately 75% of the population harbouring candida albicans, the most common cause of thrush .
The cause of oral thrush include the following:
- Babies' immune systems are immature so may not be able to regulate candida levels
- Taking antibiotics, or breast feeding your baby if you’ve recently been on antibiotics
- Using inhalers for asthma
- Receiving treatment for cancer such as chemotherapy
3. Who can get Thrush?
Although more often associated with women, both men and women can get thrush. Regarding genital thrush, it’s very common for women to experience vaginal thrush, whilst men may less commonly experience thrush on the penis. Oral thrush is most common in infants less than 6 months old and in older adults with dentures, but thrush can occur at any age if the conditions are right for the candida fungus to multiply.
4. How Common is Thrush?
Approximately 75% of women in the UK will get vaginal thrush at least once, and half of those go on to have repeat infections . The condition is incredibly common, and occurs most often to women in their 20s and 30s. Genital thrush in men (penile thrush) is far less common.
Between 5% and 7% of infants develop oral thrush . In those with AIDS, it’s estimated that the prevalence of oral thrush is 9% to 30%, and approximately 20% in those with cancer .
5. What are the Thrush Symptoms?
Female Thrush Symptoms
- White, usually odourless discharge from the vagina that looks similar to cottage cheese
- Irritation and itching around the vagina
- Stinging or soreness when you urinate or during sex
If you’re not sure if you have vaginal thrush, you can use the Canestest self-test kit to identify vaginal infections such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis in just 10 seconds.
Male Thrush Symptoms
- White discharge from the penis that looks similar to cottage cheese and has an unpleasant smell
- Irritation or redness on the head of the penis or under the foreskin
- Difficulty pulling back the foreskin
6. Can You Cure Thrush?
There isn’t a cure for thrush that will entirely prevent a recurrence, however, antifungal treatment will quickly clear thrush. It’s common to experience another bout of thrush, and the typical approach is to repeat the treatment when thrush is observed. For recurrent thrush, your GP may advise you to use a treatment, such as topical thrush cream, for a few days longer than usual. To prevent recurrent bouts of genital thrush, keep the genital area dry as much as possible, and make appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce obesity or manage your diabetes more effectively.
7. Is Thrush Contagious?
It is possible for genital thrush to be passed from partner to partner during sexual intercourse, however, this is uncommon. Oral thrush is not contagious, with most people already having some candida albicans present in the mouth .
8. How do you Treat Thrush?
Three medications are used in the treatment of thrush: Fluconazole, Clotrimazole and Miconazole.
Fluconazole is an oral treatment for genital thrush that can clear symptoms of thrush within just two days. The active ingredient in a fluconazole tablet targets the candida fungus by disrupting ergosterol production, an essential component of fungal cell membranes. This stops the spread of the candida and restores the natural bacteria balance in the affected area. The course of treatment couldn’t be simpler, needing just a single fluconazole capsule to clear the symptoms.
Clotrimazole is a powerful antifungal medication that helps clear fungal infections like genital thrush. Popular brands such as Canesten provide effective relief from thrush, offering various treatments depending on the severity or location of the thrush infection. Canesten Internal Cream and Canesten Thrush Pessary fight the genital thrush infection from the source, helping to clear thrush within three days. Canesten Thrush Cream 1% and Canesten Thrush Cream 2% are topical creams for use externally on genital thrush, providing rapid relief from itchiness and irritation.
You can combine the use of Clotrimazole topical treatment with Fluconazole thrush tablets to most effectively fight the genital thrush infection, which is conveniently available in this Canesten Thrush Duo combination treatment.
The active ingredient miconazole targets fungal cells and makes holes in their membranes, killing the cells and preventing the infection from spreading further. Daktarin Gel is a popular oral thrush treatment, and is suitable for those over the age of 2 years. The sugar-free formulation is applied to the affected areas four times per day after meals, and repeated for 7 days. For infants under 2 years old, refer to your GP for advice on treating oral thrush.
Preventative measures should always be considered, especially if thrush is experienced more than once. To help prevent oral thrush, make sure to do the following:
- Take good care of your teeth and oral hygiene. Brush twice per day and brush your gums and tongue with a soft brush
- Sterilise bottles and dummies regularly
- Clean your dentures regularly, and do not wear them at night
- Do not smoke
To prevent genital thrush, make sure to do the following:
- Make sure your genital area has a chance to fully dry after washing.
- Wear loose fitting underwear made from natural fibres.
- Use non-perfumed, pH-balanced body wash such as the Femfresh Wash to avoid irritation.
- Using antibacterial Femfresh Wipes are a great way to freshen up whilst out of the house without causing soreness.
Be sure to also check out our guide to feminine hygiene where you can learn the daily practices to staying healthy downstairs.
- Patient, 2021. Vaginal Thrush
- Everyday Health, 2020. What Is Thrush? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
- Mayer et al., 2013. Candida albicans pathogenicity mechanisms
- Informed Health Online, 2006. Vaginal yeast infection (thrush)
- Nice, 2021. Candida - oral
- Patil et al., 2015. Clinical Appearance of Oral Candida Infection and Therapeutic Strategies
- NHS Inform, 2020. Oral Thrush in Adults
Authored by Toby Watson
Pharmica Medical Writer
Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.