Thrush Symptoms and Treatment

Thrush, also known as candidiasis or moniliasis, is a fungal infection caused by Candida albicans. It is a distant cousin to the fungus that can grow on rotting food. Candida can cause infections in many dif­ferent areas, but the most common are the mouth and the vagina. The mouth infec­tions usually occur in babies, but it is the vaginal form that causes the greatest problem.

Vaginal thrush

Tight jeans, pantyhose, the contraceptive pill, nylon bathers, antibiotics and sex. All these have one thing in common - they are the common aggravating factors involved in catching the modern woman's curse of vaginal thrush.

The fungus Candida albicans lives in the gut where it causes little or no trouble. Usually when it comes out on to the skin around the anus, it dies off; but if that skin is warm, moist and irritated, it can grow and spread forward to the lips of the vagina (the vulva). A warm climate and these aggravating factors give the area between a woman's legs the right degree of warmth, moisture and irritation to make the spread of the fungus relatively easy. Antibiotics aggravate the problem because, as well as killing infecting bac­teria, they can kill off the bacteria that normally keep the number of fungi under control. Entry of the fungus into the vagina from the skin outside is aided by the mechanical action of sex and by the alteration in the acidity of the vagina caused by the contraceptive pill.

Once established, this fungus causes an unpleasant white vaginal discharge, intense itching of the vulva and surround­ing skin, and often inflammation of the urine opening so that passing urine causes discomfort. The almost irresistible, but socially unacceptable itch is what drives most patients to the doctor.

The treatment of vaginal thrush revolves around antifungal vaginal pessaries (tablets), vaginal creams and antifungal oral tablets. These can give rapid relief, and are given in a course that can vary from one to ten days depending on the severity of the infection and the method of treatment used. Unfortunately, many women have repeated attacks, and this is due to inad­equate treatment, contamination from the gut, or reinfection from their sex partner. The husband/boyfriend must also be treated with a cream, because although he may show no signs of the infection, it may be present under his foreskin, and he can give the thrush back to the woman after she has been successfully treated.

Thrush rarely causes serious medical problems, but because of its troublesome nature, it should always be treated promptly and effectively.

Women can prevent vaginal thrush infections by wearing loose cotton panties, drying the genital area carefully after swimming or showering, avoiding tight clothing, wiping from front to back after going to the toilet and not using tampons when an infection is likely. Even using all these measures, it is a fortunate woman who avoids catching thrush at some time in her life.

Oral thrush

A mouth (oral) infection caused by Candida Albicans is quite common in infancy, particularly in those babies who are bottle-fed. The mouth develops gray/white patches on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks. Unlike milk curd, these patches cannot be rubbed away with a finger tip or cotton bud. The infection may spread down into the gullet, and emerge from the anus to infect the skin around the bottom, where it causes a bright red rash that is slightly paler towards the center of the rash. Oral thrush may be triggered by a course of antibiotics that destroys the 'good' bacteria in the mouth that normally control the growth of excess fungi.

Treatment involves the use of antifungal drops or ointments in the mouth, and antifungal creams around the bottom. Complications are rare, and most babies respond rapidly to the correct treat­ment.

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