Woman in blue dress with hands to stomach, common symptoms of thrush, e-Surgery

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by overgrowth of the Candida yeast. It affects moist areas like the mouth, vagina, and skin folds.

In this comprehensive ‘Ultimate Guide’ for thrush, we will examine this fungal infection in further detail, providing readers with a complete understanding of thrush, its causes, diagnosis, and treatments available.

Our goal at e-Surgery is to inform and empower our readers about fungal infections such as thrush and provide essential tips for managing this condition. 

What Is Thrush?

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by a type of yeast called Candida. While Candida usually is present in small amounts in places like the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina, certain factors can cause an overgrowth resulting in thrush. It typically affects areas with moisture like the oral cavity, vagina, skin folds, and nappy area in babies.

The most common type is oropharyngeal candidiasis, occurring in the mouth and throat. Vaginal yeast infections are also a form of thrush. It can develop in people of any age but is more common in infants, older adults, denture wearers, diabetics, and those with weakened immune systems due to conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer treatments, or steroid use.

Although Candida is a fungus, it is part of the normal microflora of warm, moist areas of the body. However, when the environment changes or the immune system is compromised, Candida can multiply rapidly and cause infection. Factors that increase susceptibility include pregnancy, poor nutrition, oral contraceptives, antibiotic use, and illnesses causing dry mouth.

Thrush Symptoms

The common symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • White, creamy lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, tonsils, or throat that resemble cottage cheese or milk curds
  • Slight bleeding if lesions are wiped or scraped
  • Cracked, red corners of the mouth 
  • Difficulty swallowing due to a cottony feeling in the mouth
  • Loss of taste
  • Red, inflamed tissue under the white patches

For vaginal thrush, symptoms may include:

  • Thick, white vaginal discharge resembling cottage cheese
  • Vaginal itching, burning, soreness or pain
  • Pain during intercourse or urination
  • Red, irritated skin around the vagina

Infants with oral thrush symptoms may be fussy, refuse to feed, or have associated nappy rash. Thrush can also cause cracking of the skin at the corners of the mouth.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can usually diagnose oral thrush simply by examining the distinctive white, creamy lesions in your mouth. They may gently scrape away a small portion to confirm it is fungal by examining it under a microscope. In some cases, a culture may be taken to identify the strain of Candida.

For vaginal thrush, your doctor will examine the vaginal discharge and may use a pH test strip to check for an elevated level indicating yeast overgrowth. An internal speculum exam allows visualization of inflammation or sores.

In severe or persistent cases, endoscopic examination or imaging scans may be used to check for Candida spread into the esophagus or intestines. Those with weakened immune systems may have blood tests to check for a systemic fungal infection.

Medications & Treatments

Thrush treatments aim to stop the fungal overgrowth using antifungal medications. Common options include:

  • Antifungal mouthwashes or lozenges containing nystatin or clotrimazole
  • Vaginal thrush creams, tablets, or suppositories with miconazole, clotrimazole, etc.  
  • Oral antifungal pills like fluconazole for severe cases or those at risk of systemic infection

There are also natural home remedies for thrush that can provide some relief. 

For infants, a liquid antifungal medication like nystatin is typically used as an oral thrush treatment. The medicine is coated on anything going into the baby’s mouth, like pacifiers, bottle nipples, or mother’s nipples if breastfeeding.

In addition to antifungals, your doctor may recommend probiotics or natural antifungals, such as coconut oil, garlic, or grapefruit seed extract, to help restore a balanced environment. Dietary changes to reduce sugar and refined carbs may also help.

Next Steps

If you think you or your child may have thrush, see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Untreated thrush can worsen and spread to surrounding areas, or if it enters the bloodstream, potentially cause life-threatening systemic infections in those with weakened immunity.

Try to address any underlying factors that may contribute to developing thrush, such as:

  • Poor nutrition or diet high in sugar/refined carbs
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Antibiotic use that disrupts microbiome balance 
  • Immune-suppressing conditions or treatments
  • Hormonal changes like pregnancy, birth control use
  • Lack of saliva production or dry mouth

Good oral hygiene, such as brushing teeth twice daily, cleaning dentures properly, and staying hydrated, can help prevent oral thrush. For vaginal thrush, keep the genital area clean and dry, avoid tight clothing, and wear breathable cotton underwear.

If symptoms persist for more than 3-4 weeks after treatment, let your doctor know. You may need an alternative medication, a longer course, or evaluation for an underlying condition. Proper management and addressing any predisposing factors can effectively clear up thrush.

e-Surgery is your go-to pharmacy for the support you need to manage thrush. Why not speak to one of our pharmacists in case of any concerns? Simply follow the link and connect with certified pharmacists.