The lowdown on how to treat thrush (and ditch the itch!)
Any woman who’s ever had thrush will know it sure ain’t pleasant. The worst part? It ain’t rare, either. In fact, 75 per cent of women will experience the itching and burning associated with thrush at least once in their lifetime (Sobel. JD. Lancet 2007; 369: 1961-71).
Add to this it’s even more likely to occur in summer (warmer climates and swimming in your cozzie all day are not a good mix!) and you’re probably going to want to educate yourself on how to treat thrush, asap.
RELATED: 4 awkward beauty issues, solved
Thankfully, help is at hand. Below, you will find expert advice on thrush causes, symptoms, treatments, and natural remedies (plus tips to help you prevent it reoccurring)...
Thrush is otherwise known as a yeast infection. Why? Well, as BioCeuticals dietitian and nutritionist Belinda Reynolds explains, a healthy amount of yeast exists in the vagina “in small numbers” – but when there is an overgrowth, an infection occurs. A number of things can cause this, including:
- The use of antibiotics, “which kill off some of the good bacteria responsible for keeping yeast numbers under control.”
- The use of the oral contraceptive pill.
- Low immunity/illness.
- Hormonal changes.
- Wearing tight, constrictive pants or stockings.
- Wearing synthetic underwear.
- High alcohol intake.
- High sugar intake.
According to online health service healthdirect.gov.au, up to 20 per cent of women don’t experience noticeable symptoms of thrush – but the majority will experience some or all of the following down there:
- Discomfort/irritation, itching and burning.
- A thick, white discharge with an appearance similar to cottage cheese.
- Redness or swelling of the vagina or vulva.
- Stinging and burning while urinating and/or during sex.
- Splits in the genital skin.
RELATED: The STI truths you need to know
There are a number of ways to effectively treat thrush. Pharmaceutical preparations such as Canesoral Oral Capsule ($19.99, chemistwarehouse.com.au) and Chemmart Clotrimazole Thrush Treatment 6 Day Cream ($12.99, chemmart.com.au) are available over the counter and include “oral antifungals and antifungal pessaries,” says Belinda. As the expert explains, “These antifungals are generally effective at addressing many fungal infections,” but she points out there are two “key limitations to this approach.”
Firstly, an “emergence of drug-resistant strains of disease-causing microorganisms, including candida [the type of yeast that commonly causes thrush]”, means that infections may become increasingly difficult to treat in the long term. Secondly, these treatments don’t necessarily address the “local/systemic imbalance or immune dysfunction that contributed to the infection in the first place,” which means they don’t help to reduce the likelihood of the infection recurring.
In addition to antifungals, topical creams such as Botani Phytoseptic can also assist with reducing the redness and irritation of the skin (although they can’t treat the infection itself).
There are also a number of natural and dietary remedies that can help treat the symptoms of thrush. According to Belinda, probiotic pessaries may prove effective, “either as an alternative, or adjunct therapy.” Why? Well, they help restore healthy levels of lactobacilli (otherwise known as good bacteria) in the vagina, which Belinda says “improves the local vaginal tissue immune response to infection.” They can also help “maintain a slightly acidic environment within the vagina” moving forward, which assists in deterring the overgrowth of “less-desirable microbes” (including thrush-causing candida) in the future.
RELATED: Do supplements actually work?
In addition to taking a probiotic, there are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of thrush returning. Firstly, you can further boost your intake of good bacteria by consuming either cultured yoghurts or products such as Yakult Probiotic Drink ($3.95, woolworths.com.au). Belinda also recommends “reducing the amount of sugar in your diet, ensuring you’re well rested and are getting enough vitamin D.” She also advises wearing breathable fabrics and avoiding using harsh soaps in the area, which “may upset the delicate [yeast] balance.” bh recommends Vagisil pH Plus Intimate Wash or Summer's Eve Feminine Wash Normal, which are specifically designed for intimate cleansing needs.
Finally, it is important to take antibiotics only when prescribed and as directed, as the drug “can put the balance of microorganisms in the vagina off kilter, allowing yeasts such as candida to flourish and cause an infection.”
If you’re experiencing discomfort or abnormal discharge, Belinda recommends “consulting your healthcare practitioner” before you embark on a treatment, to ensure “the most effective treatment is prescribed.” Other vaginal conditions, such as bacterial vaginosis, can have similar symptoms. But as the expert explains, “If you have bacterial vaginosis as opposed to thrush, using an antifungal will provide no relief.” So it’s in your best interest to get the diagnosis right!
Similarly, if your symptoms persist post-treatment, “or if you find the condition keeps coming back,” you should discuss this with a healthcare practitioner. As Belinda explains, this could be a sign of something more serious such as a hormonal imbalance, immune dysfunction, or poor diet, which will need to be addressed.
Finally, Belinda advises that if you are pregnant and experiencing “abnormal vaginal or urinary tract symptoms,” it is particularly important to seek out a safe and effective treatment from a registered professional – “as if symptoms persist, they may contribute to more serious complications.”
Did you find this guide on treating thrush helpful? Did you learn anything you didn’t already know about thrush?