Health conditions

Thrush (genital)

What is thrush?

This fact sheet is about genital thrush in adults.

Thrush (or candidiasis) is a common yeast infection that mainly affects women and can be irritating and painful.

Thrush is caused when there is an overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Candida that lives naturally in warm, moist places such as the mouth, bowel, vagina and the foreskin of the penis.

Healthy bacteria in your body normally stop the overgrowth of Candida. However, changes in your lifestyle and health may cause the yeast to quickly multiply, leading to thrush.

Is thrush a sexually transmitted infection?

Thrush is not considered a sexually transmitted infection because you do not need to have had sex to become infected. Thrush can sometimes be passed on during sex, and sexual activity can make it worse.  

How do you get thrush?

You are more likely to get thrush if:

  • you are pregnant or taking the contraceptive pill
  • on medication such as antibiotics (which can kill off normal, healthy bacteria as well as disease-causing ones)
  • under a lot of stress
  • you have undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes
  • your immune system is weakened (such as during chemotherapy).

Thrush can also be more common at certain times during a woman’s menstrual cycle, particularly the week before or after her period.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms vary. Some people can have thrush but have no symptoms. That means they can still pass on the infection during sex.

In women:

  • thick white or yellow discharge from the vagina
  • a yeasty smell
  • stinging pain when urinating
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • redness and swelling of the  vagina or vulva.

In men:

  • there is often a red rash, which may be itchy, on the penis and/or under the foreskin.

How do I know I have thrush?

If you have any of these symptoms see your doctor for a diagnosis.

Most thrush conditions can be diagnosed by a simple genital examination. A swab from the affected area can also be taken and tested in a laboratory.

Treatment of thrush

If you have vaginal thrush you can treat the area using antifungal creams or vaginal pessaries (tablets) available from a chemist without a prescription.

If pessaries and creams do not successfully treat your thrush, see your doctor as you may have another health problem or a thrush infection that does not respond to normal treatments.

Men should apply the cream to the genital area, penis and if uncircumcised – under the foreskin as well.

Natural yoghurt can help to soothe the area, but won’t cure the infection.

Your sexual partners may also need treatment to stop you getting it again.

How can thrush be prevented?

To help prevent thrush:

  • Wear loose pants or skirts, and cotton underwear. Tight or synthetic clothes stop air movement and create moist conditions, which are ideal for bacteria.
  • Avoid using soaps or sprays in the genital area, as they can cause irritation.
  • Wash your hands before touching the vaginal area.
  • Wash your hands after going to the toilet.
  • Women should wipe themselves from front to back after going to the toilet.
  • Wash the genital area with water only. After washing, gently wipe the area dry.
  • Thrush can be passed on through sex.
    • Don’t have vaginal sex straight after anal sex.
    • Wash thoroughly after anal sex and use a new condom and water-based lubricant before engaging in vaginal sex.
    • Always use condoms, dental dams and water-based lubricant when having sex to avoid getting thrush and sexually transmitted infections.

Where to get help

Remember

  • Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Candida Albicans.
  • The condition can affect both women and men.
  • Treatment may vary and is determined by the severity of your symptoms.
  • Consult your doctor if you have recurrent episodes of thrush.

 


Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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