- Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Candida albicans.
- Vaginal creams and pessaries help reduce candida overgrowth and ease thrush symptoms.
- Thrush outbreaks, while uncomfortable, do not cause any long-term health issues.
- Consult your doctor if you have recurrent thrush.
Vaginal thrush is a common infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans yeast. This yeast lives naturally in the bowel and in small numbers in the vagina. It is mostly harmless, but symptoms can develop if yeast numbers increase.
About 75 per cent of women will have vaginal thrush in their lifetime. Other names for this infection are candidiasis or monilia.
Symptoms can include vaginal itching or burning, a white discharge and stinging or burning while urinating. Vaginal creams or vaginal tablets (pessaries) can help reduce the symptoms of thrush. Thrush can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the mouth.
Symptoms of vaginal thrush
Symptoms you may experience if you develop vaginal thrush include:
- vaginal discomfort – itching or burning
- a thick, white discharge with a ‘cottage cheese’ appearance and yeasty smell
- redness or swelling of the vagina or vulva
- stinging or burning while urinating or during sex
- splits in the genital skin.
Diagnosis of vaginal thrush
To make a diagnosis of vaginal thrush, your GP will need to:
- take a detailed history of your symptoms
- examine your genitals
- take a swab from the affected area.
Thrush is not sexually transmitted
Vaginal thrush is not a sexually transmissible infection (STI). It is caused by an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans which is normally found on the genital area. This overgrowth may occur due to:
- antibiotic use
- oral contraceptive use
- menstrual cycle changes
- general illnesses like diabetes, iron deficiency and immune system disorders
- associated vulval skin conditions, such as eczema.
Sometimes, the reason for candida overgrowth cannot be identified.
Treatment for vaginal thrush
Treatment aims to reduce the number of yeasts so they no longer cause symptoms. Options that are available from your local pharmacist without a script include:
- antifungal creams or vaginal pessaries (tablets) – these are put inside the vagina with a special applicator and are used from one to six days, depending on the instructions. Occasionally a second course of treatment is required. Repeated topical treatments (applied to the skin) may occasionally cause skin irritation
- oral tablets – these are called fluconazole and are designed to be swallowed. This treatment is more expensive than other options and is not recommended for pregnant women or as a ‘first line’ treatment. If you are on other medications or are pregnant, consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking fluconazole.
Sometimes symptoms only last for a short time (for example, the week before your period) and treatment is not necessary.
Prevention of vaginal thrush
To help prevent vaginal thrush:
- Wipe your bottom from front to back after going to the toilet. This will prevent the spread of Candida albicans from the anus to the vagina.
- Avoid using soap to wash the genital area. Soap substitutes can be used. Sorbolene (with or without glycerine) is probably the cheapest and is very effective.
- Avoid using antiseptics, douches or perfumed sprays in the genital area.
- Avoid using perfumed toilet papers and menstrual products.
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants and synthetic underwear.
- Consider changing your clothes-washing detergent and don’t use fabric softeners.
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