Thrush in women
Vaginal thrush is a common yeast infection that affects most women at some point.
It may be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but can usually be treated with medication available from pharmacies or on prescription from your GP.
However, for some women, vaginal thrush can be difficult to treat and keeps coming back.
Symptoms of vaginal thrush
Typical symptoms of vaginal thrush include:
- itching and soreness around the entrance of the vagina (itchy labia)
- vaginal discharge – this is usually odourless and may be thick and white or thin and watery
- pain during sex, which may make you worry about having sex
- a stinging sensation when peeing
Sometimes the skin around the vagina can be red, swollen or cracked. Occasionally there may also be sores on the skin, although this is more often a sign of genital herpes – it’s best to pop along to one of our drop-in clinics and get this checked out. Download our clinic timetable.
What to do if you have vaginal thrush
If you've had thrush before and think you have it again, you can normally treat it with medicines bought from a local pharmacy.
It's a good idea to pop along to one of our clinics if:
- you have thrush for the first time
- you're under the age of 16 or over 60
- you have unusual symptoms, such as coloured or smelly discharge or sores on the skin around your vagina
- you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or pain in your lower tummy
- you've had two episodes of thrush within the last six months
- you've reacted badly to antifungal treatment in the past or it didn't work
- you or your partner have previously had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and you think it might have returned
- your symptoms don't improve after 7-14 days of treatment
Thrush isn't usually anything to worry about in these cases, but we may want to take a swab from your vagina to confirm the diagnosis and/or carry out tests to check for any underlying cause.
How to treat vaginal thrush
Mild thrush can usually be treated with a short course of antifungal medication. The symptoms will usually clear up within a week or two.
Treatment may need to be continued for longer if you have repeated bouts of thrush.
Several thrush medicines can be bought over the counter from pharmacies, while others are only available on prescription from your GP or from any of our clinics.
The main types of treatment are:
- pessaries - a special pill that you insert into your vagina using a special applicator
- intravaginal creams - these are also placed into the vagina using an applicator
- capsules - these are swallowed and may be more convenient to use than pessaries or intravaginal cream, but can have more troublesome side effects, such as vomiting or an upset stomach
These treatments are all equally effective. You can usually choose the treatment you prefer, although pregnant or breastfeeding women shouldn't take the capsules.
What causes vaginal thrush?
Vaginal thrush is caused by yeasts from a group of fungi called Candida.
Many women have Candida in their vagina without it causing any problems, but thrush can develop if the natural balance of micro-organisms in the vagina is disrupted and Candida multiplies.
You're more likely to get thrush if you:
- are in your twenties and thirties – thrush is less common in girls who haven't started their periods and women who have been through the menopause
- are pregnant
- have sex when you're not fully aroused or you're worried it may hurt – this can lead to vaginal dryness and tightness during sex, which can trigger thrush
- take antibiotics
- have poorly controlled diabetes
- have a weakened immune system – for example, because of a condition such as HIV or a treatment such as chemotherapy
Vaginal thrush isn't classed as an STI, but it can be triggered by sex, particularly if you have trouble relaxing and your vagina is dry and can occasionally be passed on to sexual partners.
Preventing vaginal thrush
If you get thrush frequently you can:
- use water and an emollient (moisturiser) soap substitute to clean the skin around your vagina, but avoid cleaning this area more than once a day
- apply a greasier moisturiser to the skin around your vagina several times a day to protect it (but be aware that these moisturisers can weaken condoms)
- avoid potential irritants in perfumed soaps, shower gels, vaginal deodorants, wipes and douches
- avoid wearing tight-fitting underwear or tights - some women find that special silk underwear designed for people with eczema and thrush is helpful
- ensure your blood sugar level is kept under control, if you have diabetes
Download the Family Planning Association thrush and bacterial vaginosis leaflet.