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Vaginal thrush

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Thrush is a common yeast infection of the vulva and vagina.
  • Most thrush is caused by candida albicans.
  • Vulval itching or burning are the most common symptoms.
  • In most cases, treatment for thrush will relieve your symptoms.

What is vaginal thrush?

Thrush is a common yeast infection of the vulva and vagina. It’s easily treated and can be prevented. It is also called vaginal candidiasis.

Candida exists in many areas of your body, but especially in your vagina, anus and mouth. Candida can cause problems when it grows out of control in these areas. It can cause infections such as thrush or oral thrush.

Vaginal thrush can affect females of any age, although it is more common in females who get periods. It is unusual in females who have not yet begun their periods and after menopause.

What are the symptoms of vaginal thrush?

The most common symptoms are itching or burning around your vulva. You might also notice:

  • a thick, white or creamy vaginal discharge, which may look like cottage cheese
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • a stinging sensation when urinating (weeing)
  • swelling or redness around your vulva and vagina
  • splits in the skin of your vulva

Vaginal thrush can be present with no symptoms. This does not require treatment.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes vaginal thrush?

Most thrush is caused by a yeast called candida albicans. This lives naturally in your bowel and may also live in your vagina, mouth and skin.

Sometimes overgrowth of candida can occur, and you may get symptoms. It’s thought that high oestrogen levels can make you more likely to get thrush.

You are also more likely to get thrush when you:

Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if over-the-counter treatments for thrush aren’t working.

You should see a doctor if:

  • this is the first time you've had symptoms of thrush
  • you have 4 or more yeast infections a year (recurring thrush)
  • you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • you have pain in your lower tummy or vulval area
  • you have abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • you are worried you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Thrush can be confused with other conditions that cause vaginal itching and redness with or without discharge. These other conditions include herpes and bacterial infections.

It’s fine to treat thrush yourself without seeing a doctor if:

  • you have had thrush before and treated it successfully
  • it was more than 6 months ago

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have thrush, you should see your doctor before starting any treatment.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is vaginal thrush diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They will also examine your vulva. They may take a swab from your vagina and send it for testing to confirm the diagnosis.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is vaginal thrush treated?

Treatment for vaginal thrush is usually an anti-fungal:

  • pessary (a tablet you put in your vagina)
  • cream
  • tablet

You can buy these over-the-counter in a pharmacy.

Treatment time can range from 1 to 6 days. This depends on the product you use and the severity of your symptoms.

It’s important to complete the full course of treatment. In most cases, treatment for thrush will relieve your symptoms. However, some people may have thrush that keeps coming back (recurrent thrush). In these instances, you should see your doctor.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, speak with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any treatment.

Are there things I should avoid?

During treatment for vaginal thrush, you should look after your vulva. Try to avoid irritants such as:

  • soaps
  • bubble baths and bath oils
  • vaginal hygiene products
  • tight-fitting clothes

Thrush and sex

Sex can make your symptoms worse. If this happens, you may want to avoid sex until you have finished your treatment.

You should also be aware that thrush treatments can damage latex condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps. So, apply the treatment cream after sex.

Male sexual partners of females with thrush do not usually need treatment.

Babies and thrush

Babies can develop thrush which can be easily treated. You should visit your doctor or ask your community health nurse for advice.

Can vaginal thrush be prevented?

To help prevent vaginal thrush you can:

  • wear loose clothing
  • wear cotton underwear
  • wash your hands before touching your genital area
  • wipe yourself from front to back after going to the toilet
  • wash your hands after going to the toilet
  • avoid soaps and sprays in your genital area

Do not have vaginal sex straight after anal sex. You should wash thoroughly after anal sex. Make sure that you use a new condom before having vaginal sex.

Yoghurt and thrush

There isn't any good evidence that eating natural yoghurt or other products containing lactobacilli helps treat thrush.

Similarly, there is little evidence that applying plain yoghurt directly to your vagina will help treat thrush. However, natural yoghurt can help soothe the area.

Complications of vaginal thrush

Untreated vaginal thrush can lead to ongoing vulval discomfort. It might also cause small breaks in the skin of your vulva, which may get infected.

Recurrent thrush

About 1 in 20 females gets recurrent thrush. Recurrent thrush is when you have 4 or more episodes of thrush in a year.

It’s important to see your doctor if you think you have recurrent thrush. They will look to see if other conditions are causing your thrush.

Resources and support

If you are concerned about vaginal thrush you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Last reviewed: December 2023

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