Vaginal thrush is a common problem, usually diagnosed by its symptoms. However, similar symptoms can be experienced with other conditions, too, and therefore caution with self-care is advisable.
The thrush is usually caused by a fungus known as candida albicans, which exists naturally on the skin, mucous membranes and the gastrointestinal tract. In certain conditions, the amount of candida multiplies excessively, causing an infection. Factors increasing the risk of thrush include, among other things, antibiotics, the Pill, pregnancy, diabetes and other conditions which weaken the immune system. Tight clothing and contact with sanitary pads may also cause thrush.
Vaginal itching is not necessarily a thrush symptom, but may be caused by another gynaecological condition. Sometimes mild itching is caused by cytolysis, bursting of vaginal cells, as a result of loss of vaginal acidity. This is normal, but acidic vaginal discharge may cause symptoms on the vulva.
Typical symptoms of thrush include stinging, itching, mild swelling of the labia, and white, odourless, lumpy discharge. The discharge may be also greyish and watery. The mucous membranes may be irritated and red and have small cuts. General symptoms, such as fever or abdominal pain, do not usually occur.
Maintaining good personal hygiene is important to ensure successful medical treatment and avoid recurrence. However, avoid too frequent washes, using soap in the genital area and douching. If you use a washing liquid, use one with a pH less than 7. It is better to use tampons or a menstrual cup instead of sanitary pads. Wear air-circulating underwear (synthetic fabric, mercerised cotton, or silk) and always wipe front to back when you go to the toilet.
Avoid foods that are high in sugar in your diet, but avoiding products with yeast is not necessary. Having products that contain lactobacillus may help with recurring thrush. For the internal thrush treatment, only use products available from pharmacies.
If you have had thrush before and you are familiar with the symptoms, you can treat thrush with over-the-counter medication. Vaginal pessaries for the treatment of thrush are the recommended self-care medication, which are sold over the counter at pharmacies. Pharmacy staff will help you select the right product, if necessary. Always follow the instructions on the package carefully
Be aware when you treat thrush at home that the symptoms may also be caused by some other condition that will require different treatment. Itching and stinging may also be caused by vaginitis or sexually transmitted infection.
You should seek medical advice, if
- you have thrush for the first time or the infections are recurring.
- you're under the age of 16 or over 60 or pregnant.
- you have irregular and bloody or smelly discharge.
- in addition to the symptoms of thrush you have pain in your lower tummy and/or a temperature or difficulty urinating.
- you have blisters on the vulva or there is reason to suspect a sexually transmitted infection.
- also your partner has symptoms of thrush.
- your symptoms do not improve in 3 days by self-care or disappear in a week.
- the symptoms get worse during treatment.
Emergency care professionals have produced the instruction in collaboration with Terveyskirjasto.