Vaginal thrush occurs when a yeast called candida, which lives naturally in the vagina, grows too much. This common candida infection (also known as candidiasis) is rarely serious but does present some unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. Here we’ll explore these symptoms of thrush as well as explaining what causes thrush. 

Signs and Symptoms of Thrush

The most common vaginal thrush symptoms include:

  • Discomfort (e.g. a persistent itch or burning sensation)
  • Tears in the skin around your genitals
  • A thick and clumpy white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and sometimes has a mild smell
  • Swelling and/or redness around the vagina or vulva
  • A stinging or burning feeling when you urinate or have sex.

Oral thrush, on the other hand, is more likely to present itself in the form of white lesions. These signs of thrush will typically appear on the tongue and/or inner cheeks, though they can also spread to other parts of the mouth.

Note: Your suspected thrush symptoms could actually be a sign of something else. If there is no smell or the discharge is discoloured rather than white, consider booking a doctor consultation. You may also want to check if your symptoms look more like herpes. 

What causes thrush?

Vaginal thrush is caused by a candida infection. While this yeast lives naturally in the vagina (as well as other areas including the mouth and bowel) and is typically harmless, an overgrowth of candida is what leads to the symptoms of thrush.

This typically occurs when the microbiome in your body changes, leading to the yeast multiplying more than usual. This might happen due to:

  • New antibiotics
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy or your period
  • Increased stress levels
  • Another illness like diabetes.

Sometimes there may not be an apparent trigger for an outbreak of vaginal thrush.

If there is no obvious cause and/or your symptoms don’t entirely align with those listed above, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. What seems like thrush could be something else (e.g. an STI).

Note: If this is your first time asking “how do you get thrush?”, you might be tempted to assume it’s an STI. However, this isn’t the case. Thrush is rarely spread by sexual contact, though it can sometimes happen – and having sex can aggravate your symptoms if you’re already suffering from an outbreak.

So, what should you do?

  1. Avoid perfumes and fragrances ‘down there’ – This includes douches and sprays to mask odour as this can lead to a change in the good bacteria of the vagina.
  2. Move away from synthetic materials – That means cute swimwear, synthetic underwear and sweaty gym clothes! We also recommend you avoid wearing your swimmers all day too. Cotton underwear will be your best friend.
  3. Enjoy the hot weather by wearing loose fitting skirts and pants – Tight clothing can further irritate the area and reduces airflow
  4. Use gentle laundry detergents that are fragrance free
  5. Look for alternatives to soap for washing the area
  6. Dodge scented period products – You can see the common theme here!
  7. Be mindful that antibiotics can change the balance of your body and cause thrush – Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about this if you are prescribed antibiotics so they can advise on ways you can further reduce your chances of an imbalance
  8. Practice general hygiene – Always wash your hands before and after you touch your genital area, keep sex toys clean and change underwear regularly
  9. Wipe front to back – You know what we mean.

It’s important to note that Candidiasis can happen in any skin folds including under the breast area, armpits and in the groin. Hygiene is really important to avoid this fungal infection so keep those areas as clean and dry as possible.

If you’re unsure what thrush is or if you have it, its best to consult your GP, pharmacist or a healthcare provider, such as Youly who can help to identify the symptoms and causes of thrush. Some of the most common symptoms of virginal thrush are:

  • Discomfort such as a persistent itch or burning sensation
  • Tears in the skin around your genitals
  • A thick and clumpy white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and sometimes has a mild smell
  • Swelling and/or redness around the vagina or vulva
  • A stinging or burning feeling when you urinate or have sex

The typical way to treat vaginal thrush is by killing the candida fungus, which is done by damaging the permeability of the cell membrane through the inhibition of ergosterol biosynthesis (think of it as stopping the brickmaker from building the wall). This can be achieved with a cream, dissolving tablets, or oral tablets, all of which can be bought over the counter at pharmacies or right here at YOULY. If your symptoms don’t improve with treatment after a few days, or if your thrush recurs frequently, make an appointment with a doctor.

Thrush is rarely serious, but we know it’s not much fun either. Luckily, now that you know all the symptoms to look out for, you can catch it quickly and treat it before it becomes too much of a problem.