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Thrush is a common yeast (fungal) infection the affects both men and women. Thrush is usually caused by the yeast called ‘candida albicans’ and is generally a harmless infection but it can be uncomfortable with a tendency to cause repeat episodes.

Women can commonly suffer from vaginal thrush which is not classed as an STI, although it can be passed to male partners during sexual intercourse. Thus, females suffering with vaginal thrush should avoid sexual intercourse until their thrush episode has completely cleared.

The yeast responsible for causing thrush is naturally present on the body and likes moist, warm conditions. It normally starts to overgrow and infects the vagina due to a change in the vaginal environment. Some of the reasons that may change the vaginal environment making thrush more likely to occur, include:

  • irritated or damaged vaginal skin (which can occur due sexual intercourse)
  • having poorly controlled diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system (for example, because of HIV or chemotherapy)
  • going through the menopause
  • being pregnant

taking long-term antibiotics

Symptoms of vaginal thrush include:

  • White vaginal discharge which is normally creamy, in texture and looks like cottage cheese. The discharge is generally not associated with a smell.
  • Itching, redness, soreness and swelling around the vagina and its entrance
  • Soreness and stinging during sexual intercourse and sometimes when passing urine

Thrush can be treated using antifungal medication which is available at the pharmacy. Normally symptoms of thrush should clear up within a week of completing treatment. Treatment options include:

  • Fluconazole Tablet – an antifungal medication that only needs to be taken once as a single dose
  • Clotrimazole Cream – an antifungal cream that can be applied directly to the vaginal area
  • Clotrimazole Pessary – an antifungal vaginal tablet which can be entered directly into the vagina to treat the infection

You can take the following steps to control symptoms of vaginal thrush and prevent it returning:

  • Pat dry vaginal area properly after washing
  • Wear cotton underwear, do not wear tight underwear or tights
  • Do not use deodorants or douches on the vagina
  • Take showers instead of very hot long baths
  • Avoid sexual intercourse until the thrush has completely cleared up – if you do have sex, use a condom to help stop it spreading

Do not use soaps or shower gels to wash the affected area

You should see your GP promptly for further investigation and treatment if:

  • you have the symptoms of vaginal thrush for the first time
  • if you are aged under 16 or over 60 years
  • you suffer from recurrent thrush which keeps coming back (i.e. more than twice in 6 months)
  • over-the-counter treatment has not worked successfully
  • you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding
  • you have thrush and a weakened immune system, diabetes, cancer, liver or kidney disease