Page last reviewed March 2021

Can thrush go away on its own?

Can thrush go away on its own?

Vaginal candidiasis – often called thrush or a yeast infection – is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida that lives naturally on the skin. Thrush is typically characterised by a thick, white discharge that is sometimes likened to cottage cheese. It can also cause vulval or vaginal soreness or itchiness.1 It is very common, and many people with a vagina will have thrush at least once in their life.2

Mild cases of thrush may resolve without treatment. However, it is a good idea to treat thrush, even if mild. Thrush which is not treated properly may return and the symptoms can be irritating and uncomfortable.

Can I treat thrush myself?

There are a number of treatments you can use to treat thrush without having to go to a doctor or health professional. The two most common treatments for thrush – fluconazole and clotrimazole3 — can be bought at a pharmacy without a prescription. They are often sold under the brand name Canesten. Fluconazole is an oral tablet – usually a single dose – and clotrimazole is sold either as a cream or as a pessary (a tablet that is inserted in the vagina). A pharmacist should be able to advise you about these treatments.

Many of the symptoms of thrush – like discharge and vaginal itching – are similar to other conditions, like Chlamydia or dermatitis

UK medical guidelines suggest that live yoghurt can be used to relieve symptoms, either by eating it or applying it to the vulval area.4 Although no large clinical trials have been done,5 using yoghurt has not been shown to do any harm – but make sure to check the yoghurt label to ensure that it does not contain any sugar, as using sugary yoghurt may worsen the problem by providing an environment for bacteria to replicate.

Some home remedies can actually worsen thrush: vaginal douching has been shown to increase the risk of Candida infection.6

When should I see a doctor?

If you are concerned about your symptoms – for any reason – it’s always worth seeing your doctor. They should listen to you and take your concerns seriously. Alongside your symptoms, other reasons to seek medical advice include:

If you have never had thrush before

Many of the symptoms of thrush – like discharge and vaginal itching – are similar to other conditions, like Chlamydia or dermatitis (skin irritation). If it is your first time having these kinds of symptoms, a doctor can confirm that you do actually have thrush, rather than another condition.

If you have recently had sex with a new partner

Any new symptoms could be due to a sexually transmitted infection, so it would be worth having an STI test. You can still access sexual healthcare during the pandemic: you will need to phone the clinic you would normally go to for this care, which might be your GP or a GUM clinic. The clinic will then determine whether you need to come in for a face-to-face appointment or if there’s a way for you to access what you need from home.

You may also be able to order sexual health tests online – many local authorities in the UK have commissioned services such as SH:24 or Sexual Health London.

Thrush can be confused with other, more serious conditions, like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. Left untreated, these infections can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs, which can affect your fertility

Pain in your lower abdomen or pain during sex

Thrush can sometimes cause soreness during sex, particularly around the opening of the vagina, because the vaginal mucosa (similar to the inside of your mouth) is irritated. However, pain in your abdomen or pain during sex might be a symptom of an infection in your uterus, Fallopian tubes, or ovaries – sometimes called pelvic inflammatory disease.7

Bleeding between your periods or after sex

This kind of bleeding, sometimes called “intermenstrual” (between periods) or “postcoital” (after sex) bleeding, can be caused by sexually transmitted infections like Chlamydia.8

If you haven’t seen any improvement in your symptoms

If your symptoms haven’t improved – especially if you have already tried over-the-counter treatments from a pharmacy – it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. A doctor or nurse may be able to send off vaginal swabs to a laboratory to check for thrush or other infections and identify what thrush treatment would be most effective for you.

If you are pregnant

Some thrush treatments, like the anti-thrush tablet fluconazole, aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant.9 A doctor will be able to confirm whether you have a thrush infection and advise on the best kind of treatment for you.

Thrush symptoms that keep coming back

A small number of people will experience recurrent thrush, defined as four or more episodes of thrush in a year.10 A doctor will assess you to check for any other conditions, like diabetes, that might be causing recurrent thrush. They may advise treatment such as taking a daily anti-thrush tablet for a few months.

What happens if I leave thrush untreated?

Thrush can be confused with other, more serious conditions, like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. Left untreated, these infections can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs (like the uterus and Fallopian tubes), which can affect your fertility.

Very rarely, Candida can get into the bloodstream and spread around the body. This is called invasive candidiasis, and it can affect the blood, heart, brain, bones, or eyes.11 Invasive candidiasis is much more common in patients whose immune system works less well (immunocompromised) – for example, people who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer – and in people who are in hospital.

However, in most cases, leaving thrush untreated does not cause any long-term damage, but your vulva/vagina may remain sore and itchy.
 
 
Featured image is an illustration of a person standing with their hands resting on the top of their trousers. Their hands are tensed, as if their are itchy or irritated
 
 
Page last reviewed March 2021
Next review due March 2024

Vaginal candidiasis – often called thrush or a yeast infection – is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida that lives naturally on the skin. Thrush is typically characterised by a thick, white discharge that is sometimes likened to cottage cheese. It can also cause vulval or vaginal soreness or itchiness.1 It is very common, and many people with a vagina will have thrush at least once in their life.2

Mild cases of thrush may resolve without treatment. However, it is a good idea to treat thrush, even if mild. Thrush which is not treated properly may return and the symptoms can be irritating and uncomfortable.

Can I treat thrush myself?

There are a number of treatments you can use to treat thrush without having to go to a doctor or health professional. The two most common treatments for thrush – fluconazole and clotrimazole3 — can be bought at a pharmacy without a prescription. They are often sold under the brand name Canesten. Fluconazole is an oral tablet – usually a single dose – and clotrimazole is sold either as a cream or as a pessary (a tablet that is inserted in the vagina). A pharmacist should be able to advise you about these treatments.

Many of the symptoms of thrush – like discharge and vaginal itching – are similar to other conditions, like Chlamydia or dermatitis

UK medical guidelines suggest that live yoghurt can be used to relieve symptoms, either by eating it or applying it to the vulval area.4 Although no large clinical trials have been done,5 using yoghurt has not been shown to do any harm – but make sure to check the yoghurt label to ensure that it does not contain any sugar, as using sugary yoghurt may worsen the problem by providing an environment for bacteria to replicate.

Some home remedies can actually worsen thrush: vaginal douching has been shown to increase the risk of Candida infection.6

When should I see a doctor?

If you are concerned about your symptoms – for any reason – it’s always worth seeing your doctor. They should listen to you and take your concerns seriously. Alongside your symptoms, other reasons to seek medical advice include:

If you have never had thrush before

Many of the symptoms of thrush – like discharge and vaginal itching – are similar to other conditions, like Chlamydia or dermatitis (skin irritation). If it is your first time having these kinds of symptoms, a doctor can confirm that you do actually have thrush, rather than another condition.

If you have recently had sex with a new partner

Any new symptoms could be due to a sexually transmitted infection, so it would be worth having an STI test. You can still access sexual healthcare during the pandemic: you will need to phone the clinic you would normally go to for this care, which might be your GP or a GUM clinic. The clinic will then determine whether you need to come in for a face-to-face appointment or if there’s a way for you to access what you need from home.

You may also be able to order sexual health tests online – many local authorities in the UK have commissioned services such as SH:24 or Sexual Health London.

Thrush can be confused with other, more serious conditions, like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. Left untreated, these infections can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs, which can affect your fertility

Pain in your lower abdomen or pain during sex

Thrush can sometimes cause soreness during sex, particularly around the opening of the vagina, because the vaginal mucosa (similar to the inside of your mouth) is irritated. However, pain in your abdomen or pain during sex might be a symptom of an infection in your uterus, Fallopian tubes, or ovaries – sometimes called pelvic inflammatory disease.7

Bleeding between your periods or after sex

This kind of bleeding, sometimes called “intermenstrual” (between periods) or “postcoital” (after sex) bleeding, can be caused by sexually transmitted infections like Chlamydia.8

If you haven’t seen any improvement in your symptoms

If your symptoms haven’t improved – especially if you have already tried over-the-counter treatments from a pharmacy – it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. A doctor or nurse may be able to send off vaginal swabs to a laboratory to check for thrush or other infections and identify what thrush treatment would be most effective for you.

If you are pregnant

Some thrush treatments, like the anti-thrush tablet fluconazole, aren’t suitable if you’re pregnant.9 A doctor will be able to confirm whether you have a thrush infection and advise on the best kind of treatment for you.

Thrush symptoms that keep coming back

A small number of people will experience recurrent thrush, defined as four or more episodes of thrush in a year.10 A doctor will assess you to check for any other conditions, like diabetes, that might be causing recurrent thrush. They may advise treatment such as taking a daily anti-thrush tablet for a few months.

What happens if I leave thrush untreated?

Thrush can be confused with other, more serious conditions, like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. Left untreated, these infections can cause inflammation of the reproductive organs (like the uterus and Fallopian tubes), which can affect your fertility.

Very rarely, Candida can get into the bloodstream and spread around the body. This is called invasive candidiasis, and it can affect the blood, heart, brain, bones, or eyes.11 Invasive candidiasis is much more common in patients whose immune system works less well (immunocompromised) – for example, people who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer – and in people who are in hospital.

However, in most cases, leaving thrush untreated does not cause any long-term damage, but your vulva/vagina may remain sore and itchy.
 
 
Featured image is an illustration of a person standing with their hands resting on the top of their trousers. Their hands are tensed, as if their are itchy or irritated
 
 
Page last reviewed March 2021
Next review due March 2024

Dr Lotte Elton (MBBS, MSc, MPhil, DRCOG, AFHEA)

Dr Lotte Elton is a medical doctor and researcher, and currently works in London as a Clinical Fellow in Sexual Health. She has an MSc with Distinction in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and an MPhil with Distinction in Health, Medicine and Society from the University of Cambridge. Her research interests are in public health, medical ethics, and medical sociology; she has presented at multiple international conferences as well as publishing research in peer-reviewed journals. She holds the Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and is working towards the Diploma of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health. In August 2020 she will begin an academic training post in General Practice. She is passionate about equitable reproductive and sexual health care that is accessible to all.

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References

  1. Guideline development group, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV national guideline for the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis, International Journal of STD and AIDS, September 2020; vol 31, no 12, pp 1124-1144
  2. Jeanmonod, R., and Jeanmonod, D., Vaginal candidiasis, in StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL), January 2021 [online] (accessed 17 March 2021)
  3. NICE, Candida – Female genital, Clinical Knowledge Summary, National institute for Health and Care Excellence, May 2017 [online] (accessed 17 March 2021)
  4. Ibid
  5. Lopez, J.E.M., Candidiasis (vulvovaginal), BMJ Clinical Evidence, March 2015, article number 0815
  6. Lines, A., et al., Recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, BMJ, June 2020, vol 8, no 369, m1995
  7. NHS, Overview: Pelvic inflammatory disease, NHS website, 2018 [online] (accessed 17 March 2021)
  8. Tarney, C.M., and Han, J., Postcoital bleeding: a review on etiology, diagnosis, and management, Obstetrics and Gynecology International, June 2014, article ID: 192087
  9. Guideline development group, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV national guideline for the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis, International Journal of STD and AIDS, September 2020; vol 31, no 12, pp 1124-1144
  10. NICE, Candida – Female genital, Clinical Knowledge Summary, National institute for Health and Care Excellence, May 2017 [online] (accessed 17 March 2021)
  11. Kullberg, B.J., and Arendrup, M.C., Invasive Candidiasis, The New England Journal of Medicine, October 2015, vol 373, no 15, pp 1445-1456

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