What is thrush? 

Vaginal thrush is a common yeast infection that affects most women at some stage. Common symptoms include pain, itching and vaginal discharge. 

Vaginal thrush is caused by an overgrowth of, or an allergic reaction to, a yeast called Candida albicans. It is normal to have Candida in your vagina and most of the time it does not cause any problems. However, sometimes certain factors disrupt the natural balance, causing the Candida to multiply.

Vaginal thrush usually clears up within a week or two of treatment with anti-fungal medication. For some women, vaginal thrush is more difficult to treat and tends to occur quite frequently, despite treatment. You should discuss this with a health professional. 

What are the symptoms of thrush? 

Symptoms of vaginal thrush in women include:

  • itching or irritation around the vagina and vulva
  • burning or stinging when weeing
  • vaginal discharge – this can be thick and white or thin and watery, without any smell
  • pain during sex.

Seeing a health professional is the only way to know for sure if you have vaginal thrush. The signs and symptoms of vaginal thrush are a lot like symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and bacterial vaginosis. If left untreated, these conditions can increase your risk of getting other STIs and can lead to problems getting pregnant.

Are some women more at risk of vaginal thrush?

Some women appear to be more prone to thrush than others. Vaginal thrush can affect women and girls of all ages, but it is rare before puberty or after menopause. Your risk of getting vaginal thrush increases if you:

  • are pregnant
  • have a history of STIs
  • have recently been on a course of antibiotics or steroids
  • have diabetes and your blood sugar is not under control
  • use a type of hormonal birth control that has higher doses of oestrogen
  • have a weakened immune system, such as from chemotherapy
  • have vaginal dryness, e.g. having sex when you are not fully aroused
  • have skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis
  • wear tight clothing that promotes excessive sweating, e.g. wetsuits, synthetic underwear
  • use vaginal deodorants, sprays, gels and wipes, perfumed bubble baths, douches or other products that change the natural acidity of the vagina.

How do you treat vaginal thrush? 

Mild thrush can be treated with a short course of anti-fungal medication. Symptoms should clear up within a week or so. You may need a longer course of treatment if your thrush is difficult to treat or keeps coming back.

Anti-fungal treatments come in the form of:

  • Vaginal creams and pessaries (vaginal tablets) that you insert high into your vagina, such as clotrimazole, miconazole and nystatin.
  • Oral capsules which are taken by mouth, such as fluconazole, itraconazole.

Can you have sex when you have thrush?

You can still have sex when you have vaginal thrush. However, it can be uncomfortable and you may experience a burning sensation during or after sex. Use plenty of lubricant to protect your skin.

The treatment for thrush can weaken condoms, so apply the treatments after you have had sex if you are using condoms, or use alternative forms of contraception. 

Will sexual partner/s need treatment?

It is possible to pass thrush to your partner during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

  • If your partner is a man, the risk of infection is low. He should see a doctor if he gets an itchy red rash on his penis.
  • If your partner is a woman, she may be at risk. She should be tested and treated if she has any symptoms.

Can you prevent getting thrush? 

The best way to prevent thrush is to identify what triggers it. If you get recurrent thrush and are unsure what is causing it, discuss your symptoms with a health professional. They can investigate the underlying causes and suggest ways you can manage it. 

Some of the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Wear loose cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing.
  • Always wipe from the front (vagina) to the back (anus) after toileting.
  • Avoid using soap to wash the genital area. Soap substitutes can be used such as water-based emollient.
  • Avoid irritants such as deodorants, talcum powder, bubble bath solutions, deodorised panty shields or vaginal douches.
  • Avoid spermicidal condoms and use only water-based lubricants.
  • Consider changing your clothes-washing detergent and don’t use fabric softeners.
  • Request thrush treatment when prescribed antibiotics.
  • Ensure your blood-sugar level is kept under control, if you have diabetes.