Vaginal thrush and the different types of treatments

Vaginal thrush is a common condition caused by a yeast infection in the vagina and surrounding area. The infection is usually Candida albicans but is also known as candida or vulvovaginal candidiasis. Most women get thrush at some point in their life, but it is common in women in their thirties and forties, and in those who are pregnant.

How is it Diagnosed

This is not a condition you should diagnose yourself – see your GP if you think you might have symptoms of thrush. Your GP will check your symptoms and if unsure, will do a simple test to confirm the diagnosis. This is a simple and painless procedure, done in the surgery, and involves using a cotton swab to take a sample of cells from the vagina. The swab is then sent to the local hospital laboratory for analysis.

The test results will also show if the symptoms are being caused by other common conditions such as bacterial vaginosis (this is a common infection of the vagina, it's harmless and easily treated. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there's a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina) or trichomonas (this is a common sexually transmitted infection, it can sometimes be misdiagnosed as bacterial vaginosis). Most doctors will treat thrush without testing because the symptoms of thrush are usually obvious. Thrush is not viewed as a sexually transmitted infections, so your partner will not need to be tested or treated unless he or she also has symptoms.

How is Thrush Treated?

If symptoms are mild, your GP will usually recommend a short course of antifungal medicine, usually for one to three days. If the symptoms are more severe, the treatment course will be longer.

A variety of treatment options are available including from over the counter pessaries (a pessary is a bullet shape medical preparation designed to be inserted into the vagina) to creams and oral tablets, or a combination of all of these.

These treatments can be effective if you've had thrush before. However, if this is your first time having thrush don't buy medication directly from a pharmacy, visit your GP first. If you have thrush and you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should always visit your GP rather than buying anti-thrush medication directly from a pharmacy.

Tablet antifungal treatment can be extremely effective and one tablet taken once may be enough to cure an episode of thrush. Occasionally they cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation and bloating. Pregnant of breast feeding women are not usually prescribed tablet antifungal treatments because of the theoretical chance they may affect the baby.

Intravaginal pessaries do not cause as many side effects as table treatments, but they can be awkward and messy to use, they can cause local irritation and can damage latex condoms and diaphragms. If you are pregnant, don’t use the applicator to insert the pessary because there is a risk of causing injury to the cervix, instead, insert the pessary by hand.

Creams can be used in addition to pessary or table treatment if there is localised redness and soreness around the vagina and vulva.

Alternative Treatments for Thrush

Complementary therapies can also be effective such as bathing the genital area with diluted tea tree oil or using plain live yoghurt. Tea tree essential oil can sometimes irritate the skin, so do not use more than one or two drops in the bath, and if there is any irritation, stop using the oil and wash the area with clean, warm water.

There is no evidence to suggest that Tea Tree Oil will relieve the symptoms of thrush or help treat it, and so it is advisable that it should not be considered as the main treatment method.

If you want to try using plain live yoghurt, one method is to smear it directly over the vulva to ease any soreness or irritation, and then insert it directly into the vagina. A useful strategy to achieve this is to use a tampon with an applicator. Push the tampon back inside the applicator, add about one teaspoon of plain live yoghurt to the space and insert the tampon in the usual way. Remove the tampon an hour later. Although there is no firm medical evidence that this type of treatment is effective, there is no reason to believe it is unsafe and many women report significant relief of symptoms.

If the symptoms of thrush persist when using alternative treatments, then a course of antibiotics may be necessary. You shouldn't use over-the-counter thrush treatments for a long period of time without talking to your GP. If symptoms don’t improve within 14 days, see your GP.

Always go back to see your GP if:

  • Symptoms come back
  • You are a teenager or over 60
  • You are pregnant
  • You have previously suffered from a sexually transmitted infection

Symptoms that should always be checked out without delay include abnormal menstrual bleeding, lower abdominal pain, a bloodstained discharge and vaginal ulcers or blisters.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 15 October 2018
Next review: 15 July 2022