New research could pave the way for more effective treatments for thrush.
Scientists looked at how Candida albicans – the yeast that usually causes thrush – produces a molecule which hunts for zinc as a food source. It’s believed this molecule triggers an inflammatory response, which may cause thrush symptoms to develop.
However, the research found a zinc-based gel can ease these symptoms, as well as helping prevent reinfection.
“Recurring thrush can be deeply distressing and problematic, and we urgently need new treatments,” said Wellcome Trust senior fellow Dr Duncan Wilson of the University of Exeter’s MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, who led the research.
Further research is needed before zinc treatments can be developed and recommended. Wilson added: “We need larger scale trials to confirm the effect. Please don’t apply any products that are not designed for the genital area, as zinc can be toxic at high concentrations and it could be extremely unsafe.”
What is recurrent thrush?
Thrush symptoms can cause significant discomfort. There’s usually a tell-tale white cottage-cheese-like discharge, as well itching and irritation around the vulva and vagina and stinging when you pee. It is very common and around three-quarters of women experience at least one episode in their lifetime (men can get it too but women tend to be more prone to it).
“If you get thrush four or more times a year, it’s considered recurrent, and it is best to seek help to find the underlying cause of it,” says holistic menstrual coach Gemma Barry, founder of The Well Woman Project and author of Periods Aren’t Meant To Bloody Hurt.
Here are some factors that may play a part in recurrent thrush…
Underlying health issues
“Recurrent thrush can indicate underlying health issues, so if you get thrush four or more times a year, you need to get medical advice, rather than treating it yourself,” says Dr Shirin Lakhani, GP, intimate health expert and founder of Elite Aesthetics.
“A doctor will want to check that other conditions, such as diabetes, aren’t causing the thrush, as it can indicate difficulty managing diabetes. Other underlying health issues can include HIV or other autoimmune diseases. People living with HIV infection are more prone to thrush.
“Thrush can also be a misdiagnosis of Lichen Sclerosus, which is a debilitating condition causing soreness and extreme vulval irritation. Many women are often misdiagnosed with conditions like thrush, and then the condition is not treated correctly. Symptoms can include white lesions or plaques, pain during urination, itching, and pain during intercourse.”
Being more prone to thrush can also be linked to other medications, including being on antibiotics. Chemotherapy and using corticosteroids may also be a factor, notes Lakhani.
“Thrush isn’t an STI (sexually transmitted infection), but it can be passed onto your partner or vice versa,” says Barry. “Also, sometimes thrush can be caused by friction, so make sure everything is well lubricated if you are prone to it, and always say if sex feels uncomfortable. You might feel sore, your labia might get inflamed so you might not feel like having sex when you have thrush, or you have sex and then notice it.”
Vaginas are designed to produce mucus, to keep things lubricated and protected. Over-cleansing, especially with fragranced products, can disrupt its PH level, leaving us more prone to thrush.
“You absolutely do not want to use any soap on your nethers; the chemicals used to fragrance and make soaps are not agreeable to the delicate landscape of your vulva and vagina,” says Barry.
“That also goes for any wipes, sprays, fragrant period products – avoid like the plague. Your vagina is self-cleaning, and you only need to wash your vulva with warm water. If you are susceptible to thrush then you really need to avoid these harsh chemicals.”
Barry adds: “Friction can trigger a flare up of thrush, and this can be caused by our clothes being too tight and everything bunching up in our vulvas like an envelope. If you are prone to thrush, I would suggest clothes that are a bit more loose and comfortable, avoid things that are going to rub or chafe your vulva or make the area hot and sweaty – tights are a nightmare for this.
“Yeast infections like hot humid conditions to grow in, so having cotton and breathable fabrics near your nethers is going to allow the air to circulate. Also whip your pants off at night to allow your vulva some air time!”