A yeast infection, more commonly known as ‘thrush’ is the result of an overgrowth of a fungal bacteria called Candida in and around the vagina, penis, mouth or on the skin.
This results in an uncomfortable, itchy, sometimes painful feeling that can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, as well as tiredness, bloating, skin rashes, pain when peeing and unpleasant discharge. Sounds lovely doesn’t it?
Thrush is an incredibly common condition experienced by people with vaginas, less so by people with penises because candida loves high oestrogen conditions. However, it’s also considered, like many perfectly normal bodily reactions, to be a source of shame and embarrassment. But why?
An overgrowth of the candida bacteria can be caused by a number of things. The most common is a change in the natural PH balance of the vagina. Vaginas are naturally acidic with approximately the same PH as a kiwi fruit. Your PH balance can change for all sorts of reasons – perfumed soaps and washes, hormonal fluctuations and birth control or dietary changes.
Then there are changes due to general health – heavy drinking or a weak immune system for instance, a poor sugar-heavy diet or high stress. Then, there are bacterial causes, for example sex toys that haven’t been cleaned properly, bath water, tight underwear made from synthetic fabrics or in a new partner’s saliva or semen. I know, the way this article is going it seems like nothing in this world is safe, but hear me out. Candida already exists inside and on the body, so a little of it is normal. However, when it starts to overpopulate the body in unwelcome places, that’s a problem.
How common is thrush?
Anyone can pick up an infection, throw their PH balance out of whack or be prone to an abundance of bacteria in their gut – these things are normal. What’s most embarrassing about thrush is the very idea that your vagina is infected, likely emitting some discharge that doesn’t smell as lovely as your usual brand, and you’re itchy, uncomfortable and sex is off the table. You’ll be feeling out of sorts and that’s fair enough.
Having to admit to having thrush to get out of doing things that might be uncomfortable can make you feel ashamed and like your broken vagina is sabotaging you, but it’s unlikely that anyone would judge you for having a yeast infection, given that they affect 75% of women. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and if you tell a friend that you’re experiencing thrush, it’s likely they’ll tell you that they’ve experienced it too
How can I treat thrush?
Bacteria and fungi love warm moist spaces – think of your vagina as a sourdough starter – so drying yourself properly after you shower, wearing breathable underwear and not sitting around in damp or sweaty bikini bottoms and yoga pants are all good rules of thumb for avoiding a yeast infection.
The good news about yeast infections is that they’re relatively easy to treat. Re-balancing your body’s bacterial microbiome is as straightforward as taking an anti-fungal tablet, avoiding sex, staying hydrated and waiting a few days.
Thrush treatments include creams, pessaries and antifungal medicines containing fluconazole and clotrimazole, probiotic supplements containing lactobacillus bacteria for a healthy gut, an anti-fungal diet of fermented and high acid and antioxidant foods and in some cases, antibiotics, although these have also been known to cause yeast infections in some women, as they strip the body of its regular healthy bacteria as well as bacteria that could be threatening.
Is it thrush or something else?
Generally, you should be free of thrush in a few days but if your symptoms persist, you find yourself suffering with yeast infections uncommonly often or you’re in a lot of discomfort, pay your GP or local sexual health clinic a visit and explain your situation. Thrush is not an STI but is sometimes mistaken for bacterial vaginosis, some STIs with similar symptoms, or underlying health conditions. Again, all things that can be easily treated, so get checked out just to be sure.
Everybody is different so some people are unaffected by a few rogue bacteria whereas others feel every little change. In short, the vaginal microbiome and your body’s general equilibrium can be easily thrown off-kilter so thrush isn’t something to worry or feel ashamed about. It is, however, a bit annoying and often uncomfortable, so check in with yourself to make sure you’re looking out for your body, its PH balance and staying as balanced as you can.