Thrush is one of those things that most girls and women will go through at some point or another in their lives, like getting a fringe or kissing someone that you know is bad news. Itchy and annoying, thrush is caused by a type of fungus called candida that’s normally harmless but can cause problems if it gets out of control. Here’s everything that you need to know.
What is thrush?
Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection that causes itching and discomfort around the vagina. Yeast – or candida – naturally occurs in the vagina, but it’s a delicate balance. Put simply, thrush occurs when your vagina gets super excited and makes too much yeast. There are over 20 species of candida yeasts but the most common one that’s to blame for vaginal thrush is called candida albicans.
To blast a popular misconception, thrush isn’t a sexually-transmitted infection – and nor does it only affect women. Virgins, nuns and men can all get thrush. We know it doesn’t make anything less itchy or uncomfortable, but it might help to know that you’re not alone in this. A whopping 75% of women will experience thrush, with many (including the entire betty team) having thrush multiple times in their lifetime.
Symptoms of thrush
Itching and soreness around the entrance to the vagina and labia
A thick, white vaginal discharge, or a thin watery discharge
Pain or discomfort during sex
A stinging sensation when urinating
What does thrush look and feel like?
This pain might get worse when you go for a wee, and you might experience a burning sensation. Do not panic, nothing is on fire – it’s just some over-excited yeast.
Your discharge shouldn’t have a funky new odour (if you notice any unusual or fishy smells, it might be a bacterial condition and not thrush) but it might look thick and white, a sort of… cottage cheese consistency. We’re sorry. But hey, at least it’s not a good cheese we’ve just ruined!
What causes thrush?
Sometimes thrush is completely unavoidable. For example, lots of women find that they develop thrush when they’re taking antibiotics (because that’s just what you need on top of being ill, right).
However, if you find that you are getting thrush frequently, you might want to avoid using scented soaps, bubble bath or shower gel anywhere near your vagina. You might also want to try wearing cotton knickers, avoiding tights and changing your pad or tampons more regularly than normal, as thrush is more likely to occur when your vagina can’t breathe or is irritated by damp conditions. Another thing that can trigger thrush is using washing detergent and fabric conditioners on your underwear that contain fragrance. Choose an unscented non-bio washing detergent instead.
How do you treat thrush?
Luckily, just like the garden bird, thrush is super easy to chase away. Mild cases of thrush often clear up on their own, but you can also buy a lot of great anti-fungal treatments from the chemist. They’re generally behind the counter, so just ask the pharmacist who will be able to help you out.
You can get a cream that you use over the course of a few days, a pessary that you insert into the vagina, a one-time-only tablet or a combination of the two. Talk to the pharmacist about what will work best for you and feel free to ask for their advice. And remember, there’s nothing to feel embarrassed about, they sell thrush treatments to women every single day!
When to go to the doctor
You’re under the age of 16
You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
You have coloured or smelly discharge
There are sores on the skin around your vagina
You have vaginal bleeding when you are not on your period or pain in your lower tummy
You’ve had two episodes of thrush within the last six months
You’ve had a bad reaction to anti-fungal treatment in the past or it didn’t work
Your symptoms do not get better after 7-14 days of treatment
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Image: Katie Edmunds