There’s not a woman in the world who would welcome the news she has thrush; it’s itchy, uncomfortable, and very, very annoying. But luckily, vaginal thrush is very easily treated with over the counter medications.

If you have the dreaded itch, take a read below to see what you can do to help ease your symptoms. Or, drop into one of our CarePlus Pharmacies where our friendly (and discreet!) pharmacists can talk you through your options.

What is thrush?

Most women experience occasional bouts of the common yeast infection known as vaginal thrush. It causes itching, irritation and swelling of the vagina and surrounding area, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge.

Vaginal thrush is fairly harmless, but it can be uncomfortable. It can also keep returning this is known as recurrent (or complicated) thrush. If you display the symptoms of vaginal thrush for the very first time, it is recommended that you visit a GP, especially if you experience pain.

This is because the symptoms of vaginal thrush are sometimes similar to those of a number of skin conditions and, occasionally, a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, your GP will be able to diagnose you correctly. Your GP can take a swab to confirm whether or not you have vaginal thrush and prescribe the most suitable medication.

If you've had vaginal thrush diagnosed before and you recognise the symptoms, you can go directly to a Careplus pharmacy to buy anti-thrush medication over the counter. However, if your thrush doesn't improve after treatment, or if you have frequent bouts (at least one every few months), you should return to your GP.

Who gets vaginal thrush?

Vaginal thrush is very common. Around three-quarters of women will have a bout of thrush at some point in their lives. Up to half of these will have thrush more than once.

Thrush most commonly affects women in their twenties and thirties. It is less common in girls who have not yet started their periods and women who have been through the menopause.

While any woman can experience a bout of thrush, you're particularly prone if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Take antibiotics
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes

What is thrush?

Thrush (vulvovaginal candidiasis) is a common fungal infection of the vulva and vagina. It is caused by a fungus called Candida albicans and can also be known as candida infection, or candidosis.

Candida albicans is a fungus that is normally present on the skin and in mucous membranes such as the vagina, mouth, or rectum.

What are the symptoms of thrush?

  • Vulval itching and irritation
  • Redness of the vagina and vulva
  • Vaginal discharge, often white (like cottage cheese), which can be thick or thin, but is usually odourless
  • Pain or discomfort during sex or when passing urine

In men, symptoms may be less noticeable than in women, but include:

  • Discomfort, burning or itching at the tip of the penis or under the foreskin
  • Redness or red patches on the penis or under the foreskin
  • A thick or thin discharge, like cottage cheese, under the foreskin
  • Discomfort when passing urine

Vaginal thrush is not an STI, but it can sometimes be passed on to men during sex. This means that if you have thrush, it's best to avoid having sex until you've completed a course of treatment and the infection has cleared up. Thrush can also be triggered by sex, and this is more likely if you have trouble relaxing and producing lubrication during intercourse.

What causes thrush?

  • Taking antibiotics. The growth of yeast in the vagina is kept under control by certain 'friendly' bacteria. Antibiotics kill these bacteria, allowing the yeast to take over
  • Hormonal changes (for example, pregnancy)
  • Diabetes. This raises the sugar content in your blood and urine, which encourages the growth of yeast
  • Stress. Women who are under stress from a poor diet, an illness or lack of sleep are more susceptible
  • A weak immune system. If your immune system has been weakened by something like chemotherapy, you may be more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections

A pharmacist can help with thrush

  • You can buy anti-fungal creams and pessaries from any CarePlus Pharmacies, which will help treat your thrush. Speak with the pharmacist if this is the first time you have suffered thrush
  • A pharmacist can recommend the best treatment for you. Ask if they have a private area to talk if you're embarrassed
  • You shouldn't use antifungal medicine more than twice in 6 months without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor
  • If you have diabetes, you should report frequent fungal infections to your GP. They could be a sign that your blood sugar is not under control. Always tell the pharmacist that you have diabetes when buying thrush medications

How is thrush treated?

Some tablets, creams and pessaries to treat vaginal thrush are available over-the-counter from your pharmacist, without a prescription. Anti-thrush pessaries and creams containing clotrimazole are widely sold from pharmacies under the brand name Canesten.

These pharmacy treatments can all be used for treating thrush if you've had it before and it has returned. However, do not buy your thrush medication direct from a pharmacy if it's your first bout of thrush - see your GP first. And do not use pharmacy treatments for too long without first seeking medical advice.

If you are using an antifungal tablet, you may prefer to use an ordinary emollient (moisturiser) near your vagina, as antifungal creams can sometimes cause irritation. Anti-thrush remedies are available either on prescription from your GP or over the counter from a pharmacy.

Treatment works well for most women, and vaginal thrush usually clears up within a few days, however, about 1 in 20 women may have recurrent thrush (4 or more episodes in a year). Around 1 in 100 women may have thrush almost constantly. In these instances, longer courses of treatment, for up to 6 months, may be needed.

How to prevent thrush

If you are prone to thrush, there are some self-help techniques that you can try to prevent it from coming back. To reduce your risk of vaginal thrush:

  • Wash your vaginal area with water and avoid perfumed soaps, shower gels, vaginal deodorants, or douches
  • Avoid latex condoms, spermicidal creams or lubricants if they irritate your genital area
  • Avoid tight-fitting underwear or tights
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting trousers and skirts

Some women eat plain live yoghurt or take probiotic supplements to try to prevent vaginal thrush, but there's no firm evidence that this works.

Ask your local CarePlus Pharmacist for help and advice.