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What is thrush?

Thrush is a common infection that affects both women and men (although it is more common in women). It is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) but it can happen as a result of having sex.

Thrush is caused by a yeast fungus called candida, which grows in warm and moist conditions. It lives inside the body and on the skin and is usually harmless, but can sometimes cause uncomfortable symptoms.

How do you get thrush?

A variety of different things can cause thrush, including sex. During sex the delicate skin on the genitals can become irritated or damaged, which can make you more susceptible to infection.

You are also more susceptible if you are pregnant, have poorly controlled diabetes, or have a weakened immune system.

Other factors that increase your risk include taking antibiotics, wearing tight clothing or underwear made from synthetic material (rather than cotton), and using toiletries that irritate your genital area, such as fragranced soaps.

Symptoms

In women, thrush causes:

  • Thick white discharge from the vagina, which resembles cottage cheese
  • Itching and irritation around the vagina and vulva
  • Pain when urinating
  • Pain during sex

Unusual vaginal discharge caused by thrush doesn’t usually smell. If your discharge has a strong unpleasant smell this could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis.

In men, thrush causes:

  • Thick white discharge from the penis, which resembles cottage cheese
  • Irritation and redness on the head of the penis
  • Difficulty pulling back the foreskin
  • An unpleasant smell

Tests

If you’re concerned about your symptoms you can visit a doctor or nurse. They may want to look at your genitals and take a swab of the affected area.

It can be a good idea to visit your GP or a sexual health clinic about your symptoms, as they may be caused by a different infection. Some STIs have similar symptoms to thrush.

Treatment

Thrush treatment usually comes in the form of a cream, applied to the affected area, a tablet taken orally, or a pessary, a tablet inserted directly into the vagina.

If you’ve had thrush before and you recognise the symptoms you can obtain treatment over the counter from a pharmacist.

 

Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP