What you need to know about thrush

If you’re experiencing symptoms of thrush and have never had it before, the advice is to see a GP, says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
What you need to know about thrush

Three quarters of women will experience thrush at least once in their lives,

A COMMON infection that is not generally spoken much about between friends is thrush.

Vaginal thrush is an infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. Three quarters of women will experience it at least once in their lives, and for many it recurs. It’s usually harmless, but unpleasant to experience.

There may be a thick discharge without an odour, and the vagina and surrounding areas can be irritated and sore, red or very itchy. You may also experience a stinging when urinating.

Thrush is not exclusive to women, and can also be experienced by men. Their symptoms may include some discharge, as well as irritation and redness of the penis. Thrush can be passed onto a partner during intercourse.

We all naturally have some level of candida growing on our bodies. Usually this is kept balanced by good bacteria, a good immune system, and the appropriate level of acid.

Thrush thrives in moist environments where the bacteria or pH balance has been altered. For example, if you’ve been taking an antibiotic for a chest infection, this can reduce the levels of bacteria commonly found on the body which makes way for the candida to grow and multiply instead.

Areas where skin is broken or irritated are prime locations for thrush, and at times where the immune system is lowered or if diabetes is not being well controlled, you may also be more prone to experiencing it.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of thrush and have never had it before, the advice is to see a GP. Similarly if under 16 or over 60 years of age, if pregnant or breastfeeding, if thrush is persistently reoccurring, or if you’re immune system is low due to something like diabetes or immunosuppressants, it’s worth having a full investigation. Sometimes this might involve a physical examination or a swab of the discharge for testing. Otherwise, treatment can often be possible by products that are available over the counter, in the form of a cream, or a pessary to be inserted into the vagina.

Prescription items available for thrush include an oral tablet that you take, sometimes just one dose, sometimes for longer, depending on symptom severity and persistence. The GP will decide if such treatment is appropriate in your situation. Thrush should clear up within seven days of starting treatment, and treatment of partners is not advised as a ‘just in case’ – you should check first to see if they have symptoms too.

Comfort measures that you can take if you’re experiencing thrush, or to prevent it occurring in the first place, include wearing breathable loose cotton underwear, washing the area regularly and just patting dry, and avoiding harsh soaps around the area that can alter the pH. High sugar foods can lead to thrush, and high levels of stress can lower the immune system.

A probiotic may help to maintain good levels of bacteria in the body to combat the excessive growth of the candida.

Passing thrush on can be avoided by avoiding sexual contact during treatment. Importantly, condoms and diaphragms may not work optimally if they come in contact with the creams that are being used to treat the condition.

Thrush is not something to be embarrassed about, and a consultation about symptoms that you’re experiencing can be requested in the first instance at any pharmacy. There are lots of treatment options, and you will be advised as to the best course of action for you.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of thrush and have never had it before, the advice is to see a GP.

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