What is Thrush: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Thrush, a common health issue, often leaves people puzzled and uncomfortable. Caused by yeast overgrowth, it can affect various body parts. This article is your guide to understanding the root causes, recognising symptoms, and finding effective treatments for thrush. Whether you’re dealing with a recent diagnosis or just want to boost your knowledge, join us as we explore what thrush is, how it shows up, and ways to manage and prevent thrush infection.

Common Causes of Thrush

Thrush is a common yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. While Candida naturally exists in the body, various factors can contribute to its overgrowth, leading to thrush. Keep in mind that thrush isn’t classed as a sexually transmitted infection, however, it can be triggered via sexual activity. Here are common causes of thrush:

Weakened Immune System

Conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or autoimmune disorders can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to fungal infections like thrush.

Antibiotic Use

Antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in the body by killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can cause the yeast called Candida to increase and cause an infection.

Steroid Use

Prolonged use of corticosteroids can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of oral and vaginal yeast infection.

Diabetes

Individuals with diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, may have elevated levels of sugar in their saliva and mucus, providing a favourable environment for Candida growth.

Dentures

Ill-fitting or unclean dentures can create an environment that promotes the growth of Candida, leading to oral thrush.

Dry Mouth

Reduced saliva production, often caused by certain medications, medical conditions, or dehydration, can contribute to thrush as saliva helps control the growth of Candida.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Inadequate dental care can allow the accumulation of bacteria and fungi in the mouth, increasing the risk of thrush.

Pregnancy

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can alter the balance of microorganisms in the body, potentially leading to an overgrowth of Candida.

Chemotherapy

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can weaken the immune system and disrupt the balance of microorganisms, increasing the risk of thrush.

Weakened Mucous Membranes

Any condition or factor that weakens the mucous membranes lining the mouth and other parts of the body may facilitate Candida overgrowth.

High Sugar Diet

A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can provide an ideal environment for Candida growth that can cause thrush or make thrush symptoms worse.

It’s essential to note that while these factors contribute to the development of thrush, the specific causes can vary from person to person. If someone suspects they have thrush, seek medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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Recognising the Symptoms

Thrush manifests with distinctive symptoms that can vary depending on the affected area.

In oral thrush, the most common form, symptoms include creamy white lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, and the roof of the mouth, often resembling cottage cheese. These lesions may be accompanied by redness, soreness, and difficulty swallowing.

In cases of vaginal thrush, symptoms include itching, redness, and a cottage cheese-like discharge in women and redness, itching, and a rash in men. Systemic symptoms can also occur, such as fatigue, and in severe cases, the infection may spread to other organs.

It’s important to seek medical attention if these thrush symptoms arise, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions, as prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing thrush effectively.

Effective Treatment Options

Thrush treatment typically involves antifungal medications to eliminate the overgrowth of Candida. The specific approach depends on the severity of the infection and the affected area. Here are common treatment options:

Antifungal Medications

  • Topical Antifungals: For localised infections like oral thrush, antifungal lozenges, mouthwashes, or oral gels are often prescribed.

  • Systemic Antifungals: Oral antifungal medications may be recommended in more severe or systemic cases. These medications work throughout the body to address the infection.

Oral Hygiene Practices

Good oral hygiene is essential for treating oral thrush. Regular brushing of teeth and tongue and proper cleaning of dentures (if applicable) can help eliminate Candida and prevent its recurrence.

Managing Underlying Conditions

Treating and managing underlying conditions contributing to thrush, such as diabetes or immunodeficiency, is key to preventing recurrent thrush infections.

Dietary Changes

Adopting a low-sugar diet can help create an environment less conducive to Candida growth. This includes reducing the consumption of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates.

Probiotics

Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria, can help restore the natural balance of microorganisms in the body. They may be used as supplements or consumed through fermented foods like yoghurt.

Avoiding Irritants

Individuals with thrush should avoid substances that may exacerbate the infection, such as tobacco and alcohol, which can irritate the mucous membranes.

Regular Monitoring

It’s essential to monitor the response to treatment and follow up with healthcare providers as needed. Recurrent cases may require additional investigations and adjustments to the treatment plan.

It’s important for individuals experiencing symptoms of thrush to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Self-diagnosis and treatment without professional guidance may lead to ineffective outcomes and potential recurrence of the infection. Additionally, those with persistent or severe symptoms or weakened immune systems should seek prompt medical attention.

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Preventing Thrush Recurrence

Preventing the recurrence of thrush involves a multifaceted approach centred around maintaining a healthy balance of microorganisms in the body. Adopting good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing of teeth and tongue and proper cleaning of dentures, is crucial. Minimising the intake of sugary and yeast-containing foods while maintaining a balanced diet can create an environment less conducive to Candida overgrowth. 

Additionally, staying hydrated, limiting antibiotics to prescribed courses, and considering probiotic supplementation can help support the body’s natural defences against fungal infections.

Managing underlying health conditions, particularly those that weaken the immune system or contribute to thrush, is paramount. This may involve effectively controlling conditions like diabetes, regular medical check-ups, and proactive measures to address predisposing factors. Safe sex practices and the avoidance of irritants, such as tobacco and excessive alcohol, can further contribute to preventing recurrent vaginal thrush. 

Individual responses may vary, so consulting with a healthcare professional for personalised guidance is essential, especially if thrush persists despite preventive efforts. Regular monitoring and lifestyle adjustment can significantly reduce the likelihood of thrush recurrence.

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