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What Is the Connection between Antibiotics and Thrush?

Andrew Kirmayer
By Andrew Kirmayer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Thrush is a yeast infection that typically occurs in the mouth, but can appear on other parts of the body. Caused by a species of fungus called Candida, it can infect someone as a result of a weakened immune system. Steroids, chemotherapy, and even antibiotics can trigger thrush. Whitish sores on the mouth and tongue appear, and can last for up to two weeks, or longer if a serious condition is present. Antibiotics and thrush are connected because the medications often kill bacteria that keep the yeast in check.

With healthy types of bacteria in the mouth, yeasts such as Candida are generally outnumbered. Antibiotics and thrush are related because once these bacteria are killed off, thrush can proliferate. Some medications cause dryness in the mouth, which may increase the risk of infection when the germ-killing properties of saliva are not present. Babies and the elderly are typically more prone to thrush as well as people with diabetes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

High sugar levels in the mouth can help the yeast to feed, so a thrush infection is more likely to develop. People with diabetes, therefore, are often prone to infection. Weakened immunity because of disease or chemotherapy sometimes leaves people more susceptible as well. Combined with antibiotics, various health conditions can be accompanied by the mouth sores. Connections between antibiotics and thrush infections are often seen throughout the body, such as the genitals and intestines, while infections can spread to the esophagus, brain, or heart.

The use of antibiotics and thrush cases are often linked in many people, despite the intention of treating and curing other ailments. Oral thrush may or may not be painful. If not connected to the use of antibiotics, it can occur because of a deficiency in the immune system. Medical testing is sometimes required if the infection recurs or is very painful.

Infants and mothers can pass thrush back and forth during breastfeeding. Anti-fungal medications are often used to prevent infections from recurring, and it can also help to sterilize pacifiers and clean bottles. Even if antibiotics and thrush have led to the condition, a doctor can scrape a patch of infection, or take a biopsy, and send the sample to a laboratory. For people with serious medical conditions, antibiotics could lead to a systemic infection of thrush. Most others can fight off the infection within a couple of weeks, or the sores can clear up after an antibiotic is finished.

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Discussion Comments

By ElizaBennett — On Dec 14, 2011

If your baby does develop thrush while breastfeeding - antibiotics are a common cause, but not the only one - there may be natural treatment options. Gentian violet is one that I've seen someone use with success. (It can also be used to treat a yeast infection.)

The only problem with gentian violet is it is *messy*! Baby will look like she's been eating lots of grape popsicles, so you'll need to be careful about her drool. As always, *ask you doctor* before trying any natural remedies. They can have side effects, too, and are simply not appropriate for every person, every time. (Part of why it's so important to have a pediatrician you can really trust.)

By dfoster85 — On Dec 14, 2011

I was breastfeeding a baby when I was pregnant with my second child and I tested positive for bacterial vaginosis. I was worried about thrush, so I asked for the vaginal gel antibiotic instead of the pills. That seemed to work for me and keep us from getting thrush.

For anyone who is prescribed antibiotics while breastfeeding, I would suggest first asking if there are alternatives and if not, reeealllly loading up on the yogurt! If baby is over six months, ask your pediatrician if s/he can have yogurt, too. (Babies under a year cannot have cow's milk, but sometimes they can have *cultured* dairy, like cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt - the culturing makes it easier to digest.)

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