It's not a sexually transmitted infection but can develop after you've had sex.
Thrush is an infection caused by a yeast fungus.
It's not a sexually transmitted infection but can sometimes develop after you've had sex. It can develop in the vagina and on the genitals.
It's a very common cause of unusual vaginal discharge – 3 out of 4 people with a vagina will have thrush at some point.
It’s unusual for people with a penis to get thrush.
Some people won’t have any signs or symptoms at all.
If you do get symptoms, you might notice:
- itching, soreness and redness or fissures (like paper cuts) around the vagina, vulva (the opening to the vagina and urethra, the labia (vaginal lips) and the clitoris) or anus
- unusual, white discharge from the vagina that may be thick and look like cottage cheese – it sometimes smells yeasty
- pain when passing urine or having sex
- irritation, burning, itching, redness or fissures (like paper cuts) under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis
- a thin or thicker discharge, like cottage cheese, under the foreskin which sometimes smells yeasty
- difficulty in pulling back the foreskin.
Thrush is usually caused by a yeast fungus called candida albicans. This yeast usually lives harmlessly on the skin and in the mouth, gut, and vagina. Occasionally, however, signs and symptoms can develop. This is commonly known as thrush, thrush infection or candida.
Your chances of developing thrush increase if you:
- are pregnant
- wear tight clothing (such as tight jeans) or synthetic clothing (such as nylon underwear)
- are taking antibiotics
- are having chemotherapy
- have uncontrolled diabetes, HIV or other illnesses that affect your immune system
- use products that may irritate the vagina, such as vaginal deodorant or perfumed bubble bath or shower gel.
If you think you may have thrush, speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Thrush isn’t a sexually transmitted infection but it’s important you don’t delay getting advice if you may have been at risk of a sexually transmitted infection.
What does a test for thrush involve?
It’s not always necessary to have a test for thrush. If you do have a test, a doctor or nurse may:
- look at the genital area, the vagina or the penis
- use a swab to collect a sample from the vagina
- use a swab to collect a sample from the penis and genital area, including under the foreskin.
A swab looks like a cotton bud, but is smaller, soft and rounded. The swab is wiped over the parts of the body that could be affected and easily picks up samples. It only takes a few seconds and isn’t usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment.
Sometimes it’s possible for you to get the test result straight away. Otherwise you’ll have to wait up to two weeks to get your result.
Sometimes thrush signs will be noticed during a cervical screening test (smear test), but you’ll only need treatment if you have problems with discharge or itching. Routine blood tests don’t detect thrush.
It’s also possible to buy a test for thrush to do at home. The accuracy of these tests varies. If you buy a testing kit make sure you get advice from a pharmacist or your doctor.
How accurate are the tests?
The accuracy of a thrush test depends on the test and the type of sample that’s collected. Microscopy tests (where a sample is looked at with a microscope) for thrush that occurs in the vagina or around the vulva are usually accurate. They’re less accurate for thrush that occurs in or around a penis, so diagnosis is often made by looking at the genital area.
Where can I get a test?
You can have a test as soon as you have signs and symptoms.
There are a number of services you can go to. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with.
A test can be done at:
- your general practice
- some contraception clinics and young people’s services
- a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic.
Treatment is simple and only necessary if you have signs and symptoms of thrush.
- You may be given antifungal cream to apply to the genital area, vaginal pessaries (tablets that you put into your vagina), pills or a combination. The doctor or nurse will tell you how to use the treatment.
- You can buy some antifungal treatments from a pharmacy – these are useful if you’re sure you have thrush and want to treat it yourself. The pharmacist will answer any questions and explain how to use the treatment.
- It’s very important to take the treatment as instructed and finish any course of treatment even if the symptoms go away earlier.
- Some antifungal products can weaken latex condoms, diaphragms and caps. Polyurethane (soft plastic) types can be safely used. Ask the doctor, nurse or pharmacist for advice.
- Tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you’re pregnant, might be pregnant, or if you’re breastfeeding. This may affect the type of treatment you’re given.
How effective is the treatment?
- Antifungal cream, pessaries or pills are usually effective if you use them according to instructions. Symptoms should disappear within a few days.
- If the first treatment doesn’t work, the doctor or nurse may suggest another test or a combination of treatments.
Do I need to have a test to check the thrush has gone?
No, this isn’t usually necessary. You may wish to go back to the doctor or nurse if:
- you didn’t use the treatment as instructed
- the signs and symptoms didn’t go away
- you think you may have thrush again.
What happens if thrush isn’t treated?
For many people, thrush goes away by itself.
There's no need for your partner(s) to have any treatment unless they have signs and symptoms.
Some situations seem to make my thrush worse, is there anything I can do?
Some people find that different triggers cause vaginal thrush. If you notice a pattern, you may be able to help control it. For example:
- avoid wearing tight, restrictive or synthetic clothing, such as tights, nylon underwear, leggings, lycra shorts, and tight jeans or trousers
- make sure your vagina is well lubricated before and during sexual intercourse
- wash and wipe your genital area from front to back
- avoid using soap and deodorants near the genital area, genital sprays, bubble bath, and any other irritants such as disinfectants and antiseptics.
If you’re prescribed an antibiotic for another condition, remind your doctor that you tend to get thrush and ask for some treatment for thrush at the same time.
I get thrush regularly, is there anything that can help?
Some people may only get thrush once. Others may get it multiple times. Getting thrush four or more times in a year is called recurrent thrush. If this happens, get medical advice and don’t treat it yourself. If you get recurrent thrush the doctor or nurse:
- will want to check that other conditions, such as diabetes, aren’t the cause of the thrush
- may suggest you take antifungal treatment on a regular basis
- may check the thrush isn’t being caused by a different kind of yeast
- may suggest you stop using soap and use an emollient (soap substitute) instead
- will help you to identify any thrush triggers.
If I have thrush, will it affect my chances of getting pregnant?
No. Thrush won’t affect your chances of getting pregnant.
What happens if I get thrush when I’m pregnant?
Pregnancy can increase your chance of thrush developing. Thrush isn’t harmful to you or the baby. It can be safely treated using pessaries or creams. You shouldn’t take pills for thrush if you’re pregnant.
Always get advice before taking any treatment if you’re pregnant.
Does thrush cause cervical cancer?
No. Thrush doesn't cause cervical cancer.
Thrush isn't a sexually transmitted infection, although it can develop after you have sex.
It's possible to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by having sex with someone who has an STI, even if they have no symptoms.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection they’ll also help prevent you from passing it on to someone else.
- Use condoms (external/male or internal/female) every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
- If you have oral sex, use a condom to cover the penis, or a latex or polyurethane (soft plastic) square to cover the anus or female genitals.
- Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
- How to use condoms.
This website can only give you general information about sexually transmitted infections. The information is based on evidence-based guidance produced by The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).
Remember – contact your doctor, practice nurse or a clinic if you are worried or unsure about anything.