Despite the fact that approximately one in three women will get vaginal thrush in their lifetime, and many will experience recurrent infections, it is still something we rarely talk about.
We spoke to an expert, Dr Cris Beer, about a new study regarding vagina health, and what all women ought to know.
What are the symptoms of thrush?
Cris Beer told Mamamia the most telling symptom of thrush or candida is a “thick white discharge”, with a cottage cheese like appearance.
Others symptoms include:
- Redness of the vulva
- Swelling of the labia
- Itching and burning around entrance of vagina
- Discomfort/pain during intercourse
- Stinging sensation when passing urine
What are the causes of thrush?
Interestingly, the incidences of thrush have sky rocketed in recent history, with the introduction of things like antibiotics (30 per cent of women will get thrush because of antibiotic use), the contraceptive pill, chemotherapy and refined sugars.
The recent rise in active wear as everyday wear is also thought to be a contributor, as it doesn’t allow for necessary ventilation. The same rule applies to non-cotton underwear.
Soap products used on the vulva or in the vagina can also cause thrush, as it disrupts the natural pH of the vagina, and alcohol is also a known trigger.
LISTEN: Don’t put soaps anywhere near your pink bits. Post continues below.
Thrush is more common in women in their thirties and forties, and pregnant women.
Dr Beer added that a “suppressed immune system” can sometimes be the cause, especially for recurrent infections, along with being “stressed and rundown”.
“We’ve now realised,” Dr Beer told Mamamia, “there’s a link between your vaginal health and your gut health.
“If someone’s diet is really high in refined carbohydrates and sugars there is a link there, and it can actually change the flora of the vagina tract and cause recurrent thrush infections.”
What is the treatment for thrush?
Ideally, you shouldn’t self-diagnose yourself with thrush, especially if you’ve had thrush in the last six months and treated it successfully, you are worried you might have a sexually transmitted disease, there’s a smelly discharge or bleeding, or you’re under 16 or over 60.
In such cases, it’s important you see a doctor.
The doctor will either have you describe the symptoms, or will take a quick swab and test the cells. It’s completely painless and nothing to worry about.
Symptoms of thrush can sometimes be quite similar to bacterial vaginosis or trichomonas – although those conditions often come with a fishy or offensive smell.
A variety of treatment options are available, from tablets to pessaries (a cream inserted vaginally). Most can be purchased over the counter, with no prescription.
Often, one tablet is all it takes to cure a bout of thrush (Canesten oral or Diflucan), yet can have some (very rare) side-effects like diarrhoea or vomiting.
Creams (Canesten or Exostatin) do not come with side effects.
Is it okay to have sex when I have thrush?
Technically speaking, yes.
Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection, however, there is a risk your partner can contract thrush.
This means they might have some redness and irritation, but Dr Beer explained, "It's self-limiting and it normally goes away in a day or two because it doesn't have the internal environment women do."
For some women, thrush might make sex uncomfortable or painful, because the area is already irritated. It's also important to note that cream treatments can weaken condoms, so it's best not to apply right before intercourse.
How do I prevent thrush in the future?
Dr Beer had some helpful advice about how to minimise your chances of getting thrush, or treating recurrent thrush.
The most important thing, she said, is "Take a daily probiotic that has been formulated for women's health." This makes an enormous difference for a lot of women.
Lifestyle factors are also tremendously important, Dr Beer insisted, so don't drink too much alcohol, cut down on refined carbohydrates and sugars, reduce caffeine and eats lots of fruits and vegetables.
It's also important to "let the area breathe," so don't sit around in wet swimmers or your yoga pants after a sweaty work out.
If you're going to use soap on the vulva at all, it needs to be pH balanced (Cetaphil or Dermaveen), which are fragrance free and gentle on the skin.
You can listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner if symptoms persist. Always read the label. Use only as directed. Supplements may only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate.
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