What is Thrush and What Causes It?
Oral thrush, or oral candidiasis, occurs when a fungus called Candida albicans accumulates on the lining of your mouth. It is indicated by white lesions on the tongue, cheeks and other areas inside the mouth and throat. This candida fungus is also known as yeast. Everybody has yeast in their skin, digestive tract and mouth. This yeast is kept in check by other bacteria in the body.
Normally, your immune system works naturally to keep out harmful bacteria and viruses, keeping a steady balance of good and bad bacteria. When something upsets this fragile balance of microorganisms, such as medication or illness, it causes the fungus to grow out of control.
This type of infection is not limited to the mouth. It can also cause diaper rash in babies and yeast infections in women. Some medications that can cause thrush are birth control pills, some antibiotics and corticosteroids. Some other things that can cause thrush are HIV, cancer, excessive dry mouth, unmanaged diabetes and hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy.
Thrush Signs and Symptoms
Thrush is indicated by creamy white lesions in the mouth with an almost “cottage cheese” appearance. You may find these lesions on your tongue, cheeks, tonsils, gums and throat. They may bleed when scraped with a toothbrush. Thrush can occur suddenly and may last for extended periods of time, becoming chronic.
In serious cases, thrush may infect the esophagus causing difficulty swallowing. If it persists and spreads beyond the esophagus to the lungs, liver or skin, it can cause fevers. This most often occurs in people with cancer, HIV or otherwise compromised immune systems.
What are the Treatments for Thrush?
While it may be difficult to control symptoms in those with weakened immune systems, it can be fairly easily treated in healthy children and adults. A doctor can prescribe anti-fungal medications to treat flush.
These medications often come in the form of lozenges or tablets but liquid form is available. These medications must be taken for 10 to 14 days. If you start taking them and then stop before the prescription is finished, your body may become immune to it and you will have to take something stronger next time.
If you are a nursing mother, your baby can pass thrush on to you while breastfeeding. You and your baby can pass the infection back and forth even if one of you is being treated, so you will both likely be treated even if there are no symptoms yet.
If you do develop thrush, you want to do what you can to stop it from spreading. Change your toothbrush often and wear nursing pads if breastfeeding. Gargle with salt water. Add a half teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water, gargle then spit it out. Avoid using mouthwash or breath sprays as they can actually make matters worse.
Thrush can be prevented by having good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day and use mouthwashes sparingly. If you wear dentures, clean them daily. Finally, don’t let diabetes go unmanaged. When your blood sugar is within normal limits it will inhibit the growth of bad bacteria in your mouth.