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What is it?

Thrush is an infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. Candida lives harmlessly on the skin, in the mouth, gut and vagina and is normally kept under control by harmless bacteria. But sometimes conditions change and the yeast increases rapidly, causing symptoms of thrush.

Thrush is more likely to develop if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Wear tight clothing, such as jeans or nylon underwear, because this prevents natural ventilation
  • Take certain antibiotics
  • Are having chemotherapy
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes, HIV or other illnesses that affect your immune system
  • Use products that irritate the vagina, such as vaginal deodorant or bubble bath

There is no evidence that using hormonal contraception causes thrush to develop.

Thrush can occasionally be passed on after vaginal, anal or oral sex, by fingers during foreplay or by sharing sex toys. This may be due to the yeast being transferred from one sexual partner to another, or the act of intercourse irritating the vaginal area or genital area.

What are the symptoms?

Some people don't have any signs or symptoms, and may not be aware they have thrush. Sometimes thrush symptoms will be noticed during a vaginal examination for a cervical screening test.

Women might notice:

  • Itching, soreness and redness around the vagina, vulva and anus
  • Unusual vaginal discharge - this may be thin or thick and look like cottage cheese
  • Pain on passing urine or pain during sex

Men might notice:

  • Irritation, burning or itching under the foreskin or at the tip of the penis
  • Redness or red patches on the penis or under the foreskin
  • A thick or thin discharge, like cottage cheese, under the foreskin
  • Discomfort when passing urine

What's the treatment?

You can only be certain you have thrush if you have a test. Testing is free on the NHS from your GP, genitourinary medicine clinics or sexual health clinics. You can also speak to a pharmacist.

The test is simple and painless. It involves using a swab (like a cotton bud) to take a sample of cells from the vagina or penis. The vagina, penis and genital area will also be examined.

Treatment is very simple and involves using antifungal cream, pessaries, pills or a combination. You can buy some antifungal treatments from the pharmacy - these are useful if you're sure you have thrush and want to treat yourself. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

Some antifungal treatments weaken latex (rubber) condoms, diaphragms and caps (polyurethane types are not affected). Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you think you might be pregnant or are pregnant, or if you're breastfeeding - this will affect the type of treatment you're given.

What happens if it's not treated?

It usually goes away, as the body can often fight off some infections without treatment. But if you don’t have treatment, vaginal thrush may trigger inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) in a male partner.

Advice and support

Go to your GP, a genitourinary medicine clinic, a sexual health clinic or a pharmacy. All services are confidential.

You can call fpa's helpline on 0845 122 8690.


Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA