Feeling itchy in your pants? It’s likely that you’re suffering from thrush – the fungal infection that causes heaps of irritation, swelling, and a serious need to scratch. Annoyingly it’s pretty common too, with up to 75% of us experiencing it at some point during our lives and half us suffering with thrush more than once. Not fun.
Today, Dr Helen Webberley from the online health service mywebdoctor.co.uk gives us the lowdown on thrush.
What are the symptoms of thrush?
“The most common symptom is itching and soreness inside the vagina and on the vulva, or around the anus. A thick, lumpy white vaginal discharge, often described as having the appearance of cottage cheese, is usually also present,” says Dr Webberley.
What causes it?
Thrush is caused by a yeast fungus known as candida that usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut and vagina. However, when changes occur in the environment or the condition of the skin, it can cause thrush symptoms to develop.
“It’s normal to have bacteria in the vagina – lacto bacilli is a bacteria that’s present in large numbers and keeps the vagina acidic and therefore doesn’t allow the other ‘bugs’ to take over. However if the vaginal environment becomes less acidic these other bugs can increase in number sometimes causing symptoms. Blood is alkaline and semen is alkaline so these can contribute to changing the vaginal environment and women sometimes notice thrush symptoms are more common around their period time or after sex,” says Dr Webberley.
As well as these changes, thrush symptoms are more likely to develop if you are pregnant, have taken antibiotics, are having chemotherapy, or have uncontrolled diabetes, HIV or any illness that effects the immune system.
So what can bring on thrush? Wearing tight clothing or underwear made of nylon fibres, using highly perfumed products to wash the vagina or douche-rinsing inside the vagina – this can wash away the good bacteria allowing the other bacteria to cause symptoms.
How can it be treated?
The good news about thrush is that it’s super-easy to treat. Make an appointment with your GP (recommended for first time cases or for a severe bout) or shuffle to the nearest chemist for some medication.
"You can treat thrush with anti-fungal cream, vaginal pessaries or both. The cream is applied to the genital area as an external topical treatment and the pessaries are inserted into the vagina at night. There is also a single dose oral tablet available,” says Dr Webberley.
In general you don’t always need a test to confirm thrush as it is usually treated on the signs and symptoms. Dr Webberley says it’s important to note that thrush can live in harmless quantities in the vagina and can be found incidentally on swabs whilst testing for other STIs. Thrush does not need to be treated unless there are symptoms present.
"It is also important to understand that vaginal discharge is normal. The vagina is lubricated by mucus producing glands which give a clear white discharge, this can be heavier at certain times in the period cycle. Only ‘abnormal for you’ discharge should be of concern," she adds.
While you wait for your medication to kick in, try these thrush self-help methods recommended by the PP squad, to help ease the itchy hell...
- Avoid perfumed products
Washing your vagina with water can help soothe the pain, just please, please avoid anything that smells like heaven, aka perfumed soaps, shower gel, that bubble bath you stole from a spa hotel…
- Give sex a second thought
Latex condoms and lube tend to mess with your ladybits if they’re on the sensitive side so avoid having sex if you use either of these. Chances are it’s the last thing your sore, burning, swollen vagina wants anyway.
- Lay off the lycra
Whether or not you’re up for a gym class when you have a bout of thrush, even lounging at home in comfy leggings can irritate your vagina. Get rummaging around in your PJ drawer for the baggiest bottoms you own and wear them all week.
- Ditch the sexy knickers
If you’re anything like us, you love any excuse to bring out the granny pants. Throw your pretty lace thong in the wash bin and rock those cotton Bridget Jones’ with pure pride.