What is Thrush?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2018
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Thrush is a medical condition which is caused when yeasts from the Candida genus colonize the mouth, creating a series of painful, tender lesions and a creamy coating which superficially resembles cottage cheese. Although it is not inherently harmful, it can spread, causing systemic infection which could potentially be seriously dangerous. It is also painful and unsightly, and it reflects an imbalance of bacteria in the body which should be addressed.

Several groups are at greater risk for thrush; this condition almost never develops in healthy individuals. People with compromised immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS patients, cancer patients, and the elderly, are particularly at risk. It is also common in infants and children, who tend to be much more bold, as a whole, about what they will put in their mouths. Breastfeeding mothers and babies often experience a bout of thrush, with each passing the fungus to the other, prolonging the condition.

Identifying thrush is usually fairly easy. It starts with soreness and tenderness in the mouth and throat, often with patches of discoloration. Within a few days, the characteristic creamy white coating will appear. Many doctors diagnose this condition on physical appearance alone, but it is also possible to take a culture.


Yeasts are among the many organisms which call the human body home, but they can be disruptive when the body gets out of balance. Depending on the severity of the infection, and the patient, a doctor may recommend minimal treatment, so that the balance isn't disturbed further. Often yogurt is recommended, as yogurt with active cultures will help balance the organisms in the body, eliminating the thrush. In more severe cases, or in the instance of a patient who could be endangered by a yeast infection, an antifungal medication will be used to kill the yeast.

When a nursing mother is diagnosed with thrush, it is important to treat both her and the baby, otherwise the infection will recur. Nursing mothers may find it helpful to use a mild moisturizer and breast pads when dealing with an infection, to soothe the inflamed skin and to prevent the fungus from spreading. If breast pads are used, plastics should be avoided, as Candida fungi adore plastic.

Prevention of this condition starts with good oral care; it's a good idea to floss and brush regularly to avoid a wide variety of infections. Mouthwash can also help to reduce the risk of thrush, as can saltwater gargles, and people who consume yogurt with live cultures on a regular basis generally don't need to worry about an infection.



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