Genital or vaginal thrush is an infection that is thought to affect around 75% of women over the course of their lives, and some people may experience recurrent symptoms.

Thrush is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection and, although it can sometimes occur in men, it is most frequent in women.

Although it is not dangerous, fungal infections can have extremely unpleasant symptoms, including itching and soreness of the genital area, changes in discharge and pain whilst urinating.

What causes thrush?

Thrush can occur in men and women, in genital areas as well as the mouth. It is caused by an overproduction of a bacterium known as Candida albicans, which lives naturally in the body. The infection occurs when the body’s immune system can no longer fend off the bacteria.

Candida can be passed to a partner through sexual intercourse, although it can also occur naturally, which is why it is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection. Other causes for vaginal thrush can include irritants such as tight clothing or certain soaps and deodorants, as well as medical conditions such as diabetes, which can increase the chances of developing an infection.

What are the symptoms?

Some women may be suffering from vaginal thrush without experiencing any symptoms, in which case the only way to diagnose the condition is with a cervical smear test, which a doctor can perform. Some of the most common symptoms of a vaginal thrush infection include redness of the vagina, a change in the texture of the discharge, itchiness or soreness of the genital area, and pain whilst urinating or during sex.

Can it be prevented?

Although thrush can occur naturally, there are certain measures which can be taken in order to minimise your chances of contracting the infection, particularly if you have previously had a thrush infection. Not wearing tight trousers or tights (particularly if they contain synthetic materials) and using cotton underwear can help, as can avoiding any chemical products which may irritate the area, such as deodorants or disinfectants.

What treatments are available for vaginal thrush?

There are a number of remedies on offer to treat the condition, including prescription and over-the-counter medication. They can come in the form of creams, tablets or pessaries, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s preference.

Over-the-counter treatments

Some treatments for mild cases of thrush do not require a prescription and can be bought directly from a pharmacy. These can include treatments such as Canesten, which is available to buy as a tablet or pessary. Econazole is another anti-fungal treatment that is available in pessary form without a prescription for the treatment of thrush.

Some women apply live plain yoghurt to the affected area in order to treat the condition. Although there is no evidence that this is effective in curing the infection, it is thought to help relieve some of the symptoms.