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Thrush or vaginal candidiasis is a fungal infection of the vulva and vagina. The most frequent symptoms of infection are itching, burning and irritation of the vagina and/or vulva. Don’t worry or be embarrassed about having thrush, as thrush is more common than you might think – 3 out of 4 women have it at some point in their lives, especially if they are under the age of 20 or pregnant and it is commonly suffered around the time of a period. Men are not immune-they can get thrush too. Though only a few develop the rash and itchiness. Most male sufferers act as carriers, without actually having the symptoms.

Causes
Normally, there is a delicate balance between bacteria and yeasts that live naturally within the vagina. However, this balance is easily upset by any of the following factors which could allow the yeasts to overgrow, leading to a thrush infection:

• Antibiotics
• Poor diet
• Pregnancy
• Periods
• Diabetes
• Contraceptive pills
• Stress
• Chemotherapy
• Perfumed soaps/shower gels or bubble bath
• Wearing tight synthetic clothing.

Symptoms

• Vaginal discharge is a common symptom of thrush. This discharge usually resembles a cottage cheese-like appearance and is often described by many women to be white, thick, cheesy, sticky and gluey. In terms of odours, some women complain of a strong smell of yeast.
• Itching and burning are the most common symptoms of thrush. Try to avoid scratching as this will make the condition worse. Most women seek help for relief of external itching. However it is important to treat internally and externally to prevent symptoms from returning.
• Redness, soreness and pain. As the tissue of the genital area is very delicate, the fungal infection makes it red, swollen and very sore to touch which in turn may cause the following:
• Pain and/or discomfort, during sexual intercourse
• Pain and/or discomfort, during urination
• Discomfort in sitting and walking
• Vaginal Fissuring where cracks may appear in severe causes of inflammation.

Treatment
Thrush can be easily and effectively treated with over the counter (OTC) products which come in the following forms:

Antifungal Creams – administered directly to the outside of the vagina to relieve itching
Pessaries – tablet inserted into the vagina
Oral Pills – tablets taken by the mouth which will treat the internal infection (only available with prescription from your doctor)

If you recognise the symptoms described and you think you might have thrush for the first time, it’s important to see your doctor so he/she can confirm it is thrush and advise you on the most suitable treatment.
Most other women can self-medicate with advice from your Pharmacist.

Prevention
Here are a few tips and hints to help you prevent thrush:

• Avoid tight, synthetic clothing; loose, cotton knickers may help
• Avoid perfumed soaps, gels and bubble baths and vaginal deodorants
• Change tampons and sanitary towels regularly during your period
• Wash and dry intimate areas regularly but gently especially after exercise
• Be careful with toilet hygiene; always wipe from front to back
• A well-balanced diet low in fats and sugar, together with a healthy lifestyle or regular activity and enough rest
• Use of lubrication during sexual intercourse
• To help prevent re-infection, treat your partner with a thrush cream