Itchy down below? Everything you need to know about thrush

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It's uncomfortable, it's itchy and it's often embarrassing to deal with.
Thrush is a yeast infection that's more common than you think - at least
three out of four women will experience it at some point in their
lifetime, but it can also affect men too.

It's usually harmless, but it can keep coming back if you don't take the
right precautionary steps to keep it at bay. We spoke Harley Street
gynaecologist Tania Adib to find out a few fast facts on the
infection...

What is thrush?

"Thrush is the medical term to describe a yeast infection that can
affect both men and women. It usually isn't anything to be concerned
about and there are effective treatments," explains Adib.

"The condition is thought to be caused by an overgrowth of the
yeast-like fungus, called candida albicans. Usually the good bacteria
within the vagina helps maintain a balance of good and bad bacteria and
fungus. However, an imbalance can lead to an overgrowth of yeast,
potentially leading to an infection such as thrush."

What are the symptoms in men and women?

Adib explains that the symptoms of thrush are similar for both men and
women. "For men, they'll usually appear under the foreskin or around the
head of the penis. The condition can sometimes also spread to the groin
area, causing a painful rash."

Women, on the other hand, will experience symptoms in and around the
vagina."Thrush manifests itself as thick, curd-like discharge which
causes itching and discomfort. There is nothing harmful about the
discharge itself, it's just inconvenient, unpleasant and uncomfortable.
There may also be a yeasty, sweet smell to the discharge," she says.

Thrush can also present itself with just itching and redness, which can
cause many women to be unaware that they have thrush.

"Some people may misdiagnose symptoms of itching and redness as
dermatosis, which has the same symptoms," notes Adib. "Other common
symptoms of the condition include stinging when passing urine and pain
during sex."

How can you treat it?

"In some cases, thrush may go away on its own," says Adib, "however it
may take time, and it's best to get your symptoms checked out. An
at-home test like the Canestest Self-Test for Vaginal Infection (£7.99,
pharmacyfirst.co.uk) can give you an answer in ten seconds to help you
determine if you're suffering with thrush or another condition such as
bacterial vaginosis (BV)."

Vaginal thrush can usually be managed by over-the-counter products from
your local pharmacy. An anti-fungal cream and oral capsule, such as
Canesten Thrush Duo Oral Capsule & External Cream (£13.99, boots.com),
can help to clear the infection.

"Probiotics can be beneficial when experiencing thrush too, as they
often occur due to an imbalance in the vaginal flora," says Adib.
"Following treatment, probiotics can help, either a vaginal or an oral
tablet, which help support a good balance of bacteria. If specialist
probiotics for the vagina are used after antibiotic treatment, it can
prevent further episodes and support a good balance of bacteria."

How can you avoid getting it?

Here, Adib shares her top tips for stopping thrush in its tracks...

1. Avoid Perfumed Soaps

"Women should wash their intimate area with either water or an
unperfumed, specialist wash to help support a healthy balance of
microflora. It's also very important to properly dry before dressing
again, as bacteria thrives in moist environments."

2. Wear breathable gym clothes

"When it comes to frequent exercise and vaginal health, women do need to
be careful. Gym wear usually includes synthetic, non-breathable fabric,
which when sweating from exercise can create a lot of moisture build-up.
Conditions such as thrush thrive in these warm conditions, and you are
more likely to get irritation on and around the vulva."

3. Support your immune system

"Your immune system affects how the body performs and responds to
threats, including inside the vagina. If your immune system is run down,
which may commonly be down to stress, or a virus, you are more likely to
get a vaginal infection."

4. Stay hydrated

"Dehydration can cause countless problems, and is very bad for the body.
When you urinate, you flush out any toxins and bad bacteria. However, if
you're not able to flush toxins through the body, you're more likely to
get discomfort and an infection."

5. Avoid sugar

"Diet can also affect your intimate health, high sugar and high acidity
(often found in alcohol) can damage your vaginal pH balance as well."

6. Wear the right underwear

"Cotton knickers are best for your intimate health, as many synthetic
fibres have harsh chemicals in that can be very irritating to the vulva.
The colouring of the dyes they use in underwear can also be very
irritating. I would always recommend that women do not wear them at
night. However, I would always advise wearing underwear in the day, as
materials in tights and trousers can be very harsh on the intimate
area."

Catherine Devane