Thrush is also known as a yeast infection and can manifest as soreness and itching around the genital area. Other symptoms might include burning, swelling, and a cottage cheese-like discharge. Luckily, thrush can be easily treated both naturally or by using over-the-counter medications.
We know how uncomfortable it is when we get thrush, but do we know which daily habits might cause it? Dr Mitra Dutt, a GP and expert in obstetrics and gynaecology, explains five unexpected items that can cause thrush and how to avoid them.
1. Bath bombs
If you notice thrush symptoms after a soak in the bath, a bath bomb may be to blame. Whilst they smell lovely and are captivating to watch as they fizz, bath bombs often contain ingredients such as baking soda, citric acid and cornstarch. These ingredients can impact the vagina's pH balance, increasing the risk of yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Consider Epsom salts and oat baths as a safer alternative.
2. Body moisturisers
Like bath bombs, some body lotions and moisturisers can also throw off our pH balance and cause irritation. Moisturisers are designed for external use and should never be applied internally to the body. It's especially important not to apply them anywhere near the vulva or vaginal canal because they will cause irritation. Vaginal and vulval products should be acidic and in the region of pH3.8 – 4.5. Anything higher can lead to the risk of infection.
Every vagina has its own natural odour and should not be altered with any extra scents or perfumes. Again, perfume interferes with the vagina's natural pH. If you experience thrush after adding perfume, do not douche - this will cause the irritation to spread further up the cervix, only increasing discomfort.
Tight-fitting clothing like underwear, tights and leggings can cause friction. Plus, nylon materials are known to retain heat.
For this reason, clothing that's tight around the groin area creates the perfect environment for the Candida fungus to develop. Limiting the amount of tight clothing you wear and choosing cotton tights and underwear may be a sacrifice worth making if you're particularly prone to thrush. It goes without saying, but also make sure you're washing underwear and tights after every wear.
Eating too much of certain foods can also encourage thrush symptoms to develop. It is the refined sugars, carbs, and high-lactose dairy products that can enable Candida and other "bad" microorganisms to grow.
Everything can be eaten in moderation, but if you find you are eating too much of a certain food, this can be the start of a problem. Make sure you incorporate a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, and drink lots of water.
How can I avoid thrush?
1. Keep the genital area dry
If you're prone to thrush, keeping the genital area dry is a must. Bacteria thrive in moist conditions so this prevents them from multiplying. After showering, pat down the area, but don't rub as this could irritate an infection that may already be there. Air the genital area by keeping it uncovered, and wear cotton pants as opposed to materials such as nylon or spandex to help the vagina breathe.
2. Wipe from front to back
After going to the toilet, make sure you wipe from front to back rather than back to front. Bacteria from the anus can irritate the vagina, leading to problems that could have easily been avoided. Faeces that come into contact with the vaginal canal can cause UTIs.
3. Practice safe sex and use a condom
One of the best ways to prevent thrush during sexual intercourse is to use a condom. Bacteria from different parts of the body can spread to the vagina, leaving it irritated and infected. Thrush isn’t a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it can still be very uncomfortable if contracted. Wash all sex toys before and after use to avoid thrush.
What about oral thrush?
Thrush isn't always about the genital area; it can also be present in the mouth. Oral thrush happens when a fungus called Candida occurs in the mouth. It's usually harmless and the fungal infection is not contagious, but it commonly occurs when the natural bacterial balance within the body is disrupted. Symptoms can include thick, white-coloured spots within the mouth that can feel raised or sore when touched, cracks within the corners of the mouth, and difficulty eating or drinking.
To avoid oral thrush, make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and wash out your mouth after eating food. Whilst your teeth are just as important, many people often forget that it’s not just about keeping the teeth clean, but the mouth and tongue also. Do not smoke if you have oral thrush and make sure you increase your vitamin C intake to prevent further infection.
What about thrush symptoms in men?
Thrush symptoms in men are mostly the same as they are in women, such as itching and burning sensations around the infected area. However, men may also experience difficulty pulling back the foreskin on a penis. The head of the penis might also feel tender, sex might feel slightly uncomfortable, and an unpleasant smell and a cottage cheese-like discharge may be present.
Whilst thrush is less common in men, that does not mean the symptoms should be ignored. Wash the area in lukewarm water and refrain from using any perfumed or fragranced products whilst irritation is present.
As we know, thrush tends to grow in moist, warm conditions so avoid wearing materials like tight nylon or latex and opt for cotton underwear to let the skin breathe. If symptoms persist, your local sexual health clinic or your GP will also be able to help. They might prescribe an antifungal tablet or cream.