All the Questions About Thrush You’re Too Embarrassed To Ask Your Doctor

If you’re a woman with an itchy, red vulva and cottage cheese-like discharge coming from your vagina, you may be experiencing thrush, otherwise known as a yeast infection. While it’s really quite common for women to have thrush sometime in their life, it’s understandable if you’re concerned the first time you experience it. Though please understand, while thrush isn’t pleasant, it is treatable and it shouldn’t interfere with your life too much.

Here are some answers to some common questions you may have about vaginal thrush.  

What does thrush look and feel like?  

Intense itching and burning around the vulva, coupled with thick, white cottage cheese-like discharge and sometimes swelling can be signs you have thrush, or a yeast infection. Thrush is a fungal infection that can often come on fast, sometimes overnight. There is usually no pain when you urinate or any odour with thrush.  

How long does thrush last? 

Caught early, a thrush infection can run its course within less than seven days. However, if left untreated, there is a possibility it could become more moderate, extending the timeframe to 2-3 weeks. 

What causes thrush? 

A range of diet and lifestyle factors can cause thrush, including: eating too many sweets, glutinous breads / pasta, and dairy, drinking too much alcohol, hormone changes (from pregnancy, the Pill, weight gain or loss), stress, lack of sleep, antibiotics, synthetic underwear or fibres in the area, excessive sweat, and use of perfumed douches or body washes in the area. Getting on top of any of these causes can help to prevent thrush, naturally. 

What happens if thrush is left untreated? 

The symptoms of thrush are really unpleasant, though with easy treatments available, there’s no reason you should have to put up with them. Left untreated, a vaginal yeast infection could lead to other health problems. Most common is a skin infection, caused by the vulva skin cracking due to scratching or swelling. Less common is the vaginal thrush manifesting orally (in the mouth), tummy problems, and fatigue.  

Why do you keep getting recurring yeast infections? 

Thrush is common, and without lifestyle changes like those mentioned above, it can recur. If this happens to you, simply re-treat with your preferred topical or oral antifungal. However, if you have experienced four or more thrush infections in the past 12 months, it’s best to have a check-in with your GP to see how they can help you.  

Does taking antibiotics make you more likely to get thrush? 

Yes. Antibiotics can impact the naturally-occurring balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina, causing an overgrowth of yeast and thus, an infection. If you’re on antibiotics for another condition, your GP may recommend you also take a probiotic to rebalance your internal flora. If this isn’t suitable for you, you can also try a thrush treatment during the course of your antibiotics. Speak to your GP about what’s suitable for you.  

How to know if you have thrush and not herpes or another STI? 

Intense itching, burning around the vulva and swelling can be signs you have thrush, or a yeast infection. On the other hand, symptoms of genital herpes include blisters and sores. While both can come with the symptom of thick, white cottage cheese-like discharge, there are other differences that help tell the difference between herpes and thrush. Genital herpes can also include flu-like symptoms, smelly discharge, and sores on your mouth. 

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s recommended to visit your GP for a confirmed diagnosis.

Does your vagina bleed with a yeast infection? 

While rare, you may notice a spot of blood when going to the bathroom or in your underwear should you have thrush. This is because the vulva skin can crack due to scratching or swelling. Swift treatment of thrush under the guidance of a GP or pharmacist can assist to keep cracking at a minimum. 

Is thrush contagious? 

No. Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection and can occur without sexual contact. However, Candida can sometimes be passed on during sex and sexual activity can make thrush symptoms worse.

Can you still have sex if you have thrush?  

Technically you can still have sex when you have thrush, but it may be uncomfortable for you due to the itching and swelling of the vulva. If you can avoid sex for the (usual) week of the yeast infection, this is recommended – it will prevent unnecessary pain for yourself, and also prevent any friction which could cause the skin to crack. It’ll also prevent you from passing on the fungi to your partner.

Plus, as above, you may transfer the yeast infection to your partner inadvertently. 

Sex is more pleasurable when it isn’t painful or risky, so take a break if you can. 

Does a condom prevent against a yeast infection? 

This one depends on each individual.  

Condoms can cause yeast infections only if there is a latex sensitivity, which can cause your body to react with a thrush flare up. On the other hand, sometimes semen from not using condoms can change the pH balance of your vagina and result in a thrush flare up.  

The best way to see what it is that is causing your yeast infection is to track any changes to your diet or lifestyle against your recurring yeast infections. Once you have an idea, cut-out the culprit if possible, or speak to a GP about what you can do to prevent recurrences. 

Remember, if you’re using a topical thrush treatment, the ingredients could interfere with those of your condoms (I.e. oil-based treatments can damage latex condoms) so check with your GP about your options or avoid penetrative sex in the week of your yeast infection. 

Can thrush impact your pregnancy? 

Thrush is more common during pregnancy because your hormones are changing regularly. While your GP can provide a plan that’s right for you — which may include treatment of thrush with a topical antifungal. You should avoid oral antifungal medications. Don’t worry, though — thrush should not impact your pregnancy if treated correctly.  

Can you get thrush in areas other than your vagina?  

Yes, for people with lowered immunity, sometimes thrush can manifest in the mouth (oral thrush), throat or oesophagus. More serious, yeast infections in this area should be diagnosed and a plan of action made as soon as possible with a healthcare professional.  

If you have further questions about thrush, speak to your GP or pharmacist. They’re used to all the above questions and more, so don’t be embarrassed. The more you know, the more you know!