What is thrush?

Thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth. Another name for thrush is candidiasis.

What is the cause?

The yeast that causes thrush is a type of fungus called candida. It’s normal to have some yeast in our bodies and in our mouths. It usually does not cause a problem because normal bacteria keep it from growing out of control.

Sometimes the yeast grows quickly and if it grows out of control it causes an infection.

Several things may cause an overgrowth of yeast:

  • When taking antibiotics, the medicine may kill the bacteria that normally keep yeast levels under control.
  • Taking steroid medicine can affect the immune system, making it less able to control yeast levels. The immune system is the body’s defense against infection.
  • Drugs that lower the body’s defenses against infection, such as drugs used to treat AIDS or cancer, can allow the yeast to grow and spread.
  • Conditions that cause hormonal changes, such as having your period, menopause, pregnancy, or taking birth control pills, may cause yeast to grow.

Yeast infections are more likely if you have diabetes, especially when your blood sugar level is too high.

What are the symptoms?

Thrush can usually be seen as white patches in the mouth and on the tongue. These areas may or may not be sore. Sometimes the white patches of fungus get rubbed or scraped off, leaving red areas that are tender. Sometimes the corners of the mouth get sore and red. The infected areas may sting or burn when eating hot or acidic foods (like citrus or tomatoes). If the thrush is severe, it may be hard to eat and swallow.

In severe cases, thrush may spread down into the esophagus, the food pipe that leads to your stomach. If this happens, you may have pain, trouble swallowing, or a feeling that food is stuck in your throat or chest.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. The diagnosis may be clear from your symptoms and your exam. Your provider may collect samples of cells from a white patch to check for yeast.

How is it treated?

Thrush often flares up and then goes away on its own. Mild cases can be treated by gently removing the white patches from your mouth with a cotton swab. If you have another medical problem and often have thrush, talk to your healthcare provider. He may be able to change your treatment to decrease the risk of thrush.

Your provider may prescribe an antifungal medicine. The medicine may be taken as a liquid, which is swished around the mouth and swallowed, or as a pill.

In most cases you will feel better 2 to 3 days after you start using the medicine, but you may still have some redness or tenderness in your mouth. It is very important to take all the medicine as prescribed, even after the infection seems to be gone.

If you are breast-feeding an infant who has oral thrush, often you both need to be treated. Otherwise, you may pass the infection back and forth. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine for your baby and a cream for your breasts. Normally, breast-feeding can continue, as long as you limit feedings to 20 minutes per breast. This will help you avoid nipple pain.

If you get thrush often because of another chronic condition, your provider may prescribe daily medicine to keep it from coming back.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • If your mouth is sore, drink cool liquids and eat soft, bland foods until the tenderness is gone.
  • Try eating unsweetened yogurt or taking acidophilus capsules to help restore the natural balance of bacteria. You can buy acidophilus in natural food stores and drugstores.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What can I do to prevent thrush?

To prevent thrush, keep these tips in mind:

  • Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Also wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes.
  • When your child has thrush, tell people who care for the child. They should be extra careful about washing their hands after caring for the child.
  • Sterilize all bottles, including bottle nipples and caps, pacifiers, and teething toys by putting them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Boil everything again once the thrush is gone.
  • Eat yogurt or take acidophilus capsules when you are taking antibiotics.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2014-12-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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