What is thrush?
Thrush is a fungal (yeast) infection that can grow in your mouth, throat and other parts of your body. In your mouth thrush appears as a growth that can look like cottage cheese – white, raised lesions on your tongue and cheeks. The condition can quickly become irritated and cause mouth pain and redness.
Thrush is caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida. Mouth and throat thrush is called *oropharyngeal candidiasis. A thrush infection is annoying but it’s generally a minor problem for healthy people and will clear up in a few weeks with anti-fungal treatment.
While thrush can affect anyone, babies under 1 month old, toddlers, older adults and people with weakened immune systems (where symptoms can be harder to control) are at more risk. Thrush in the esophagus (swallowing tube) is one of the more common infections in people with HIV/AIDS.
Thrush can be contagious to those at risk (like people with weakened immune systems or are taking certain medications). In healthy people, it’s unusual for it to be passed on through kissing or other close contacts. In most cases, thrush isn’t considered particularly contagious but it can be transmitted.
If you’re worried about getting thrush from another person who has it, avoid coming into contact with their saliva (spit). It’s smart to wash your hands as often as possible if you’re near someone who has thrush.
Why is thrush a concern during breastfeeding?
Because infants are more at risk, getting or giving thrush during breastfeeding is a worry with many moms. It’s a common breastfeeding problem, and in some cases treatment can be tricky.
Babies with thrush can pass the infection to their mothers. When the infection in a baby’s mouth leads to sore throat and pain, they cry and are irritable during feeding. Mothers (especially if they’re taking antibiotics) may also develop thrush infections around the breasts and nipples and transmit it to their babies.
When both mom and baby develop thrush they should be treated for the condition at the same time to prevent an ongoing exchange of the infection.
How is thrush diagnosed?
Your health care provider can usually tell right away if you have thrush by looking for the distinctive white lesions on your mouth, tongue or checks. Lightly brushing the lesions away reveals a reddened, tender area that may bleed slightly. A microscopic exam of tissue from a lesion will confirm whether or not you have thrush (but a physical exam is not always necessary).
If thrush extends into your esophagus other tests may be needed. Your health care provider might:
– Take a throat culture (swabbing the back of your throat with sterile cotton and studying the microorganisms under a microscope).
– Perform an endoscopy of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine (examining the lining of these body areas with a lighted camera mounted on the tip of a tube passed through these areas).
– Take X-rays of your esophagus.
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
How is thrush treated?
Healthy kids and adults can be effectively treated for thrush. But the symptoms may be more severe and hard to treat in those with weakened immune systems.
Anti-fungal medications (like nystatin) are often prescribed to treat thrush. These medicines are available in tablets, lozenges or liquids that are usually “swished” around in your mouth before being swallowed. Usually, you need to take these medications for 10 to 14 days. Your health care provider will have a specific treatment approach designed for you based on your age and the cause of the infection.
The presence of Candida infection can be a symptom of other medical problems. Be sure to talk to your health care provider to look for these and set up a treatment plan if needed.
How can thrush be prevented?
You can do these things to help you avoid a case of thrush:
– Follow good oral hygiene practices: Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
– Avoid certain mouthwashes or sprays
– Get regular dental checkups. Especially if you have diabetes or wear dentures. Even if you’re healthy and don’t have dental issues, you should get your teeth cleaned by your dentist every 6 months.
– Treat chronic health issues. A condition such as HIV or diabetes can disturb the balance of bacteria in your body and lead to thrush. If you’re taking medications for an ongoing health condition, take them regularly, as directed.
– Don’t overuse mouthwashes or sprays. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash once or twice a day to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Using any more than that may upset the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth.
– Clean inhalers after using them. If you have a condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), clean your inhalers after each use to kill germs.
– Limit foods that contain sugar and yeast. Bread, beer, and wine will cause extra yeast growth.
– If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor or dentist about ways to help you kick the habit.