Thrush (Candidiasis): What it is – What causes it – What to do about it

What is thrush?

Thrush (also known as candidiasis) is a fungal infection caused by the candida albicans fungus, or yeast. Candidiasis is the most common form of fungal infection, typically in those with a reduced immune function. Oral thrush usually presents with white lesions on the tongue or cheeks, but can spread to the gums, tonsils, throat, and the roof of the mouth. Healthy individuals can experience thrush, but it found much more frequently in those with compromised immune systems. If you are healthy, it can be treated pretty easily. However, in those with weaker immune systems the symptoms can be much more severe and more difficult to manage.

Signs of thrush

Because thrush can affect numerous different parts of the body the signs and symptoms can vary greatly from case to case. It usually develops suddenly, but can become chronic and persist over a long period of time. The most common sign of thrush is the presence of creamy white, slightly raised lesions in the mouth. These lesions, which may have a “cottage cheese” appearance can be quite painful, and may bleed if scraped or when brushing your teeth. Symptoms associated with thrush are:

  • Oral discomfort
  • Pain on eating
  • Loss of taste
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Pain on swallowing
  • Pain in and behind the breast bone area
  • Painful eyes
  • Gradual decrease in vision
  • Joint pain
  • Painful urination
  • Constipation
  • Neck stiffness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Headache
  • Symptoms of heart failure such as ankle swelling and shortness of breath

Progression of thrush

Progression of Oral Thrush (Candidiasis)

• Creamy, white lesions on the tongue • Lesions spread to the back of the throat • Lesions increase and spread to tonsils • This is a severe case of thrush in an individual with a compromised immune system

Dangers of thrush

The real danger of thrush is that it can easily spread to, and effect other parts of the body if your immune function is not performing properly. This can be a result for those who suffer from immune dysfunctions like HIV or AIDS, or those who are undergoing chemo therapy or radiation therapy for different forms of cancer. In these instances where it spreads there have been numerous cases of death from the infection.

What causes thrush?

Trace amounts of candida fungi are always present on the skin and in the mouth and digestive system of most healthy people. These fungi are usually kept in check by other bacteria and microorganisms. Certain illnesses, stress, and medications can alter the environment in the body to make it more susceptible to infections. When these situations present themselves, candida fungi can grow out of control and cause thrush.

Uncontrolled diabetes, cancer, dry mouth, pregnancy, and HIV are health conditions that can create environments that are more likely to be susceptible to thrush. Ill fitting dentures can be another risk factor, as well as smoking. Infants are often more likely to be affected by thrush as sometimes their immune systems are still developing, and in this case they can pass it to their mothers while breast feeding. Medications like birth control pills and antibiotics can upset the balance as well as they can eliminate some of the helpful bacteria that normally regulate candida.

How to prevent thrush

Prevention of thrush weighs heavily on how well you can control the contributing factors. The candida fungus will always be around, it’s just a matter of maintaining the environment required to keep it in check. Some tips for doing this are:

  • Good control of blood sugar levels if you are diabetic can reduce the risk of all types of infection
  • Gargle and rinse after you use an inhaler
  • If you wear dentures, be sure to clean and disinfect them daily. Also be sure to take them out at night, as not removing them for at least 6 hours daily is thought to be a contributing factor for thrush among those who wear dentures. See your dentist about getting new dentures if they don’t fit properly.
  • If you take medications that can cause dry mouth, consult your doctor about changing your prescription, or use an antibacterial mouth rinse that will help keep your mouth from drying.

Treatment of thrush

The goal in any treatment of thrush is to prevent the spread of the fungus, but the best approach to this may vary on your age, health, and the cause of the infection. For nursing mothers and babies suffering from thrush, it is likely that both mother and child will be treated. Doctors may prescribe antifungal medication for the baby and creams for the mother. This is important, because otherwise you could be continually passing the infection back and forth. For adults or children who are otherwise healthy, anti-fungal medications are a normal treatment. However, eating unsweetened yogurt can help restore the normal bacteria in the mouth and thus help regulate the candida fungus. In those with compromised immunity, candida can often build resistance to medications, so be sure to consult your doctor.

Cost of thrush

For the majority of those who have thrush, treatment can be as simple as antibiotics and anti-fungal medications. Keep in mind though that a number of these types of medications can have other side effects or cause damage to organs like the liver and kidneys. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, be sure to consult your dentist and physician.

What to do about it

Aside from the aforementioned medication based treatments, the most important thing you can do is to ensure that you’re practicing good oral hygiene, and visiting your dentist every 6 months. Make sure that you brush and floss at least twice a day, and choose products that will not allow for more fungi or bacteria to grow in your mouth. Numerous toothpastes and mouthwashes contain potentially harmful ingredients, and can create an environment in the mouth in which bacteria and fungus can grow out of control and lead to further breakouts of thrush.

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