What is a thrush?

Thrush is not normally an issue in a healthy body. It occurs most often in people who have a weakened immune system or are taking certain medications that kill off good bacteria.
Thrush is not normally an issue in a healthy body. It occurs most often in people who have a weakened immune system or are taking certain medications that kill off good bacteria.

Thrush is a fungal infection that occurs in your mouth and throat. Thrush on your tongue shows up as white patches. 

Under normal conditions, your body contains millions of yeast and fungi. They usually cause no harm and can even be beneficial and help fight disease. A particular type of yeast, called candida albicans, normally lives in your body without causing any problems. The other beneficial bacteria in your body keep it from causing problems.

When the conditions inside your body change, because of medication or a weakened immune system, it can lead to the yeast growing out of control and causing thrush. 

Thrush is not normally an issue in a healthy body. It occurs most often in people who have a weakened immune system or are taking certain medications that kill off good bacteria.

Sign and symptoms of thrush

If you have the following symptoms, you may have thrush:

  • White patches in your mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Loss of taste
  • Pain when eating and swallowing
  • Cotton-like feeling in your mouth
  • Cracking and redness at the corners of your mouth

Types of thrush

There are two main types of thrush:

Pseudomembranous form

This is the most common type of thrush. It occurs as white patches on your mouth or tongue, or in the back of your throat.

Atrophic form

This type of thrush appears underneath upper dentures in the form of red patches. It occurs most often in older adults.

Causes of thrush

Thrush stems from an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. Candida is always present on our bodies. It's on the skin and inside the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. Normally, this does not cause any problems. The beneficial bacteria in your body keep it under control. 

If the environment in your mouth changes for any reason, it can lead to fungal overgrowth. Some risk factors for this include:

  • Drugs like inhaled steroids, which may suppress your cells’ immunity
  • A high-carbohydrate diet, because candida thrives in the presence of glucose
  • Treatments like radiation or chemotherapy that kill healthy cells in your body
  • A weakened immune system because of a condition such as HIV/AIDS or leukemia
  • Diabetes
  • Oral conditions that reduce the flow of saliva, such as wearing dentures 

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When to see a doctor for thrush

If you have any of the symptoms of thrush, particularly white patches in your mouth, see your doctor. You need medication to treat thrush.

Diagnosis for thrush

Your doctor will take a medical history and do a physical exam. You will be asked about any medical conditions you have and any medications you are currently taking. It's likely that a diagnosis can be made with only an observation. However, your doctor may take a small sample from your mouth or throat. 

If your doctor suspects you have thrush in your esophagus, you may need to have an endoscopy. An endoscopy is a procedure that lets your doctor see your upper digestive tract with a light and a camera on a tube.

Treatments for thrush

The treatment your doctor chooses for thrush will depend on how severe it is, your age, and other medical conditions you may have. Your doctor will want to treat your thrush as early as possible to prevent it from spreading and to ease the pain

Antifungal medications are the standard treatment for thrush. Your doctor will most likely prescribe a lozenge to suck on and let dissolve in your mouth. Your doctor could give you liquid nystatin to gargle or a pill to swallow, instead. 

The following home remedies may help as well:

  • Brush and floss twice a day
  • Replace your toothbrush after your thrush clears up
  • Disinfect your dentures to avoid reinfecting yourself
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water using one teaspoon of salt dissolved in one cup of water
  • Avoid using mouthwash unless your doctor has prescribed it

Preventing thrush

Thrush will generally clear up once you start treatment, but it may return if the underlying condition goes untreated. To help prevent thrush in the future, you may want to do the following:

  • Brush and floss your teeth regularly
  • Ask your doctor about using a chlorhexidine mouthwash
  • Clean and disinfect your dentures regularly, and make sure they fit well
  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly after using a corticosteroid inhaler
  • Only use antibiotics if absolutely necessary
  • Get treatment for underlying conditions that make you vulnerable to thrush such as diabetes

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Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2021
References
Cedars-Sinai: "Candida Infection: Thrush."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Candida Infections of the Mouth, Throat, and Esophagus."

Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: “Oral candidiasis: An overview.”

Mayo Clinic: "Oral Thrush."

Merck Manual: "Candidiasis: Yeast Infection."

NPS Medicinewise: “Fungilin Lozenges.”

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