Vaginal thrush is most commonly caused by a fungus called Candida albicans, which grows naturally in the vagina. However, other types of Candida fungus can set off the condition. It is also possible for the fungus to be present without causing any symptoms – this is the case in 20-50% of women, the NHS estimates.
Other causal factors
There are a few accepted and possible risk factors, which have been known to increase a woman’s risk of developing thrush. These include:
Antibiotics – these can significantly increase the risk of developing thrush, but the Candida fungus must already be present
- Diabetes – especially when the condition is poorly controlled
- Pregnancy – the hormone changes occurring during pregnancy can lead to thrush
- Weakened immune system – this makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infection and regulate the spread of the fungus
- Contraceptives – especially combined oral contraceptives may increase the risk of thrush
- Tight clothing – wearing tights, for example, too often is thought to heighten risk
The most common symptoms include:
- External vaginal itching
- Soreness and irritation
- Discharge – this can be either thin and watery or thick and white and is usually odourless
- Pain and/or discomfort while urinating
- Pain and/or discomfort when having sex
Vulvovaginal inflammation – this can cause redness, swelling and cracked skin (in sever cases) and satellite lesions, which may also indicate the presence of another fungal infection, or the Herpes Virus.
Candida is described as non-complicated when the sufferer experiences less than four bouts of it per year. If it occurs more often than that or if there is severe vulvovaginal inflammation, then the condition is termed as complicated.
[adsense] Although over-the-counter remedies are available, it is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor who can usually provide a diagnosis based on the symptoms. He or she may also take a swab to test the pH level in the discharge or send the sufferer to be tested for other sexually transmitted infections.
If symptoms are mild, the doctor will usually prescribe a short course of anti-fungal medication. The medicine can be taken orally in the form of a pill or as a pessary inserted directly into the vagina. Topical creams are also available to relieve external soreness and itching.
Pregnant women should not use treatments available without a prescription, but should go straight to their doctor if they think they have Candida. Those who do use over-the-counter medication should only do so if their symptoms are mild and non-recurrent and should seek professional advice if symptoms do not go after 7 to 14 days.
A few home remedies, which can be used to relieve symptoms and lessen the risk of thrush returning include:
- Washing the vaginal area just with water – avoiding soaps, shower gels, vaginal deodorants etc.
- Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing when possible
- Avoiding latex condoms, lubricants and spermicidal creams.
Images: Wikimedia Commons