What is Thrush?

Thrush is a vaginal yeast infection which affects around 75% of women at some point during their lives. It is caused by a fungus called Candida albicans and can also be known as candida infection, or candidosis. Candida albicans is a naturally occurring fungus which is usually found in the moist parts of the body such as the vagina. The body is usually able to keep the growth of yeast under control, but in thrush, the yeast takes over, resulting in an infection.

What are the Symptoms of Thrush?

If you have thrush, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • A thick, white, cheese-like vaginal discharge.
  • Burning or itching around the vagina.
  • Redness, soreness and swelling of the vulva (the female external genitalia).
  • Burning sensation when urinating.
  • Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse.

What are the Causes of Thrush?

There are a number of factors which may make a woman more susceptible to developing thrush:

  • Taking antibiotics: The growth of yeast in the vagina is kept under control by certain ‘friendly’ bacteria. Antibiotics kill these bacteria, allowing the yeast to take over.
  • Changes in female sex hormone levels (due to pregnancy, taking the contraceptive pill, or before periods): this can alter the pH balance in the vagina making it more alkaline. Yeast thrives in an alkaline environment.
  • Diabetes: This raises the sugar content in your blood and urine, which encourages the growth of yeast.
  • Stress: Women who are under stress from a poor diet, an illness or lack of sleep are more susceptible.
  • A weak immune system: If your immune system has been weakened by something like chemotherapy, you may be more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections.

Traditional Medical Treatments for Thrush

If properly treated, the majority of vaginal yeast infections are gone within two weeks. Sometimes it only takes a few days. If left untreated however, these infections can persist for years. Treatment is usually with antifungal medication. Generally you will be given a combination of a cream that is administered directly to the outside of the vagina, which helps relive the itching and soreness, and either a pessary (tablet inserted into the vagina) or tablets taken by mouth, which will treat the internal infection. These medicines are available from a pharmacy, without a doctor’s prescription. However, you should see your doctor if you are at all unsure if the problem is thrush, or if the problem is recurring. The following measures may also help: Bathing in warm, salted water is very soothing. You should avoid all chemicals, such as bubble bath and perfumed soap during an infection. Avoid tights or tight-fitting clothing such as Lycra leggings, if possible. If you are sexually active, your doctor may recommend simultaneous treatment of your sexual partner(s) if they have symptoms, to prevent re-infection.

Complementary/Alternative Treatments for Thrush

Some women find tea tree oil helpful in stopping thrush. Its effectiveness in fighting candida albicans is also supported by scientific studies. To use tea tree oil for thrush:

  • Put tea tree oil on the tip of a tampon and insert it into your vagina.
  • Put tea tree on a panty liner or towel
  • Dampen cotton wool with tea tree (mixed with water) and gently wipe around the vaginal area.

Some health food stores carry ready-made tea tree oil pessaries and manuka oil salve (manuka is another type of tea tree). Look in the women’s health section or ask the sales assistant. Be aware that tea tree may sting at first, but it should stop after a short while.