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What causes Thrush? How to prevent vaginal yeast infections

Yeast infections are unfortunately an extremely common problem for people with vaginas – 75% of women will develop vaginal Thrush in their lifetime. But what causes Thrush? What does vaginal Thrush look like? What can we do to prevent it? In this article, we delve into the important information: how to recognise Thrush and how to treat a yeast infection swiftly. Many things can affect your vaginal health – from the clothes you wear, down to the food you eat – so it’s important to look after yourself correctly, otherwise it can lead to Thrush.

What causes Thrush?

Thrush is a fungal infection which is caused by a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Usually, your vagina maintains a healthy pH balance due to good bacteria outweighing the number of bad bacteria. However, sometimes harmful bacteria can begin to take over, which is how yeast infections arise. The vaginal microbiome undergoes fluctuations during women’s lifetimes. Lactobacillus protects the vagina from developing too much harmful bacteria which causes unpleasant symptoms. If the pH balance of the vagina becomes more alkaline, the amount of lactobacillus decreases, meaning that bad bacteria can multiply. The bacteria which cause a vaginal yeast infection is called candida.

The most common causes of Thrush are tight clothing, antibiotics, diet and bad personal hygiene.

It’s important to wear breathable clothing, as fabric which is tight around the vaginal area can sometimes cause an influx of candida. Bacteria thrives in warm, moist environments and tight clothing will make conditions perfect for them to grow. To avoid a vaginal yeast infection, choose underwear made from natural fibres that are breathable, such as silk, linen or cotton. It’s also important to chance any sanitary items regularly, as well as changing out of wet clothes as soon as possible after swimming to prevent Thrush.

The purpose of antibiotics is to kill bacterial infections in the body, but sometimes they can also attack healthy bacteria, such as lactobacilli. Taking a probiotic supplement whilst you’re on a course of antibiotics can help to prevent Thrush.

Diet can also be a factor in what causes Thrush. Bacteria-disrupting foods are anything which is processed, high in sugar or contain hormones and antibiotics. Alcohol has the capability to cause vaginal Thrush due to its contents. Probiotic and prebiotic foods can be incorporated into your diet for better vaginal health, including natural yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. Alternatively, you can take supplements with probiotic and prebiotic properties to help with your gut health.

Vaginal Thrush can sometimes be caused by bad personal hygiene. Certain soaps, lubes and period products can irritate the vagina by changing the pH balance. The vagina is self-cleaning, so products which contain irritating products and fragrances can actually be doing more harm than good. Most of the time, all you need to do is wash daily with a mild soap and water. It’s important to wash your hands regularly and wash your vagina with only non-irritating products. Use mild soaps, body-face lubricants and clean any sex toys you use thoroughly. Tampons can change your vaginal pH balance by absorbing menstrual blood and drying the vagina, so it might be worth opting for a menstrual cup, period pants or organic liners.

What does vaginal Thrush look like?

Thrush symptoms (NHS) are easy to identify. Vaginal Thrush discharge can be lumpy white or watery vaginal discharge, itching and irritation of the vulva (particularly of the inner labia), soreness or stinging inside the opening of the vagina and burning during sex or when you urinate.

Vaginal Thrush can sometimes smell if your hygiene is poor, but it isn’t typically associated with Thrush symptoms. In this case, it may be a different infection of the vagina, such as bacterial vaginosis.

Thrush is not contagious, but the bacteria which causes yeast infections can be passed from person to person. Although it is rare, vaginal Thrush can be passed on during unprotected sex. Therefore, if you have Thrush, it’s important to avoid having unprotected sex until you have completed your yeast infection treatment. Thrush can affect other parts of the body, like the throat, groin and armpits. If someone has a weakened immune system, then they are more likely to contract an infection.

How to treat a yeast infection

In some cases, vaginal Thrush can go away by itself. However, it’s best to use Thrush treatment in order to avoid any inflammation, discomfort and other Thrush symptoms, such as vaginal Thrush discharge.

Over-the-counter methods are simple and effective ways of how to treat a yeast infection. The most common yeast infection treatments are:

  • Pessary – a pessary is inserted into the vagina using an applicator. This is a single Thrush treatment and often will contain Clotrimazole, which is an anti-fungal agent which fights off the bacteria that causes Thrush
  • Anti-fungal cream – this is an external cream which is applied to the affected areas of the vagina. It soothes and relieves itching whilst fighting off the infection.
  • Capsules – this is a capsule which is taken orally and contains an anti-fungal which restores the bacterial balance in your body, fighting off the yeast which is responsible for vaginal Thrush.

Yeast infection treatment should clear up Thrush within seven to fourteen days. If you’re worried about recurring yeast infections, we recommend seeing your doctor. You should also see your doctor if any over-the-counter Thrush treatment has failed to ease your symptoms.

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