Vaginal thrush (mateīhi) is a common yeast infection that affects most women at some stage. Common symptoms include vaginal itching, discharge and pain.
- Vaginal thrush is caused by an overgrowth of, or an allergic reaction to, a yeast called Candida albicans.
- Vaginal thrush usually clears up within a week of treatment with antifungal medication. This is available at your pharmacy or on prescription from your doctor.
- For some women, vaginal thrush is more difficult to treat and tends to occur quite frequently, despite treatment. Read more about recurrent vaginal thrush.
What causes vaginal thrush?
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. Up to 3 out of 4 women will have at least one bout of thrush in their lives.
Vaginal thrush is sometimes called candidiasis or vaginal yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis.
Are some women more at risk of vaginal thrush?
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 sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- have recently been on a course of antibiotics or steroids
- have diabetes and your blood glucose 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 a skin condition such as eczema or dermatitis
- have sex when you are not fully aroused, as vaginal dryness during sex can trigger thrush
- wear tight fitting clothes
- use vaginal deodorants, sprays, gels and wipes, perfumed bubble baths, douches or other products that change the natural acidity of your vagina.
In some women, vaginal thrush tends to occur quite frequently. If you experience 4 or more vaginal thrush infections per year, this is called recurrent vaginal thrush. Read more about recurrent vaginal thrush.
What are the symptoms of vaginal thrush?
Symptoms of vaginal thrush include:
- itching or irritation around your vagina and vulva
- burning or stinging when urinating (weeing)
- vaginal discharge – this can be thick and white or thin and watery, without any smell
- pain during sex.
Some people have no symptoms and thrush may be picked up when having a test for something else.
Can I self-diagnose vaginal thrush?
Because it’s so common and symptoms are well known, many women self-diagnose and self-treat thrush with over-the-counter products.
The signs and symptoms of vaginal thrush are a lot like symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and bacterial vaginosis. These conditions can increase your risk of getting other STIs and can lead to problems getting pregnant. So if you are not completely sure if you have thrush, see your doctor.
Should I see a pharmacist or my doctor about treatment for vaginal thrush?
If you've had vaginal thrush diagnosed in the past and you know the symptoms, you can buy antifungal treatment from a pharmacist.
Sometimes symptoms of vaginal thrush may be due to another condition. See your doctor if you have symptoms of vaginal thrush and you:
- are having symptoms of thrush for the first time
- are under 16 years or over 60 years old
- are pregnant
- have treated yourself with a thrush treatment from the pharmacy, but your symptoms have not gone away
- have a history of, or are concerned about, sexually transmitted infections
- have any of the following vaginal symptoms:
- discoloured or strong smelling discharge
- lower abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding that is not your period
- ulcers or blisters next to your vagina
- vaginal thrush symptoms that have not settled despite appropriate treatment
- vaginal thrush symptoms more than four times in a year
- vaginal thrush symptoms plus other symptoms such as fever, tiredness or nausea.
What is the treatment for vaginal thrush?
Antifungal medicine is the best treatment for vaginal thrush. It comes in the form of vaginal creams, pessaries (tablets you insert into your vagina) or capsules that are taken by mouth (fluconazole). The choice of treatment and the dose will depend on different factors such as:
- whether your symptoms are mild or severe
- how often you get vaginal thrush
- whether you are pregnant.
Read more about the treatment of vaginal thrush using medicines.
The following measures have not been shown to help:
- Special low-sugar, low-yeast or high-yoghurt diets
- Putting yoghurt into the vagina
I'm pregnant, is thrush going to harm my baby?
Thrush does not damage the vagina and it does not spread to damage the womb (uterus). Having thrush while you are pregnant won't harm your unborn baby but if you have thrush when you are giving birth, it may be passed on to your baby. If this happens you will be given advice on how to treat it. Untreated thrush can cause problems so make sure you see a doctor if you think you have thrush to find out how best to treat it during pregnancy.
Can I have sex when I have vaginal 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. Thrush can also pass to the mouth during oral sex. Read more about oral thrush here.
Use barrier forms of contraception (eg, condoms) to avoid passing thrush to your partner.
Some vaginal creams can weaken condoms, so apply the treatments after you have had sex if you are using condoms, or use alternative forms of contraception.
Will my sexual partner need treatment?
It is possible to pass thrush to your partner during vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- If your sexual 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. Read more about thrush in men.
- If your sexual partner is a woman, she may be at risk. She should be tested and treated if she has any symptoms.
How can vaginal thrush be prevented?
The best way to prevent vaginal thrush is to identify what triggers it. If you get recurrent vaginal thrush and are unsure what is causing it, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. They can investigate the underlying causes and suggest ways you can manage it. Read more about recurrent vaginal thrush.
Things you can do to ease discomfort and prevent vaginal thrush returning:
- Dry the affected area properly after washing.
- Wear loose cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing.
- Always wipe from the front (vagina) to the back (anus) after toileting.
- Use only water-based lubricants.
- Use soap substitutes such as water-based emollients.
- Consider changing your laundry detergent.
- Ensure your blood glucose level is kept under control if you have diabetes.
Avoid the following:
- Avoid using soap to wash your genital area.
- Avoid irritants such as deodorants, talcum powder, bubble bath solutions, deodorised panty shields or vaginal douches.
- Avoid spermicidal condoms.
- Avoid fabric softeners.
Thrush (candida) HealthInfo, NZ
Understanding your vaginal swab results HealthInfo, NZ
Vulvovaginal candidiasis DermNet, NZ
Thrush in men and women NHS Choices, UK
Vaginal candidiasis CDC, US
Thrush in pregnancy NHS, UK
- Vulvovaginal health in premenopausal women BPAC, NZ
- Vaginal and vulval infections NZ Formulary, NZ
- Thrush NHS, UK, 2021
|Dr Jeremy Tuohy is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist with a special interest in Maternal and Fetal Medicine. Jeremy has been a lecturer at the University of Otago, Clinical leader of Ultrasound and Maternal and Fetal Medicine at Capital and Coast DHB, and has practiced as a private obstetrician. He is currently completing his PhD in Obstetric Medicine at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.|