Last reviewed January 2020

5 evidence-backed ways to soothe itching thrush

5 evidence-backed ways to soothe itching thrush

Vulvovaginal candidiasis, otherwise known as vaginal thrush, refers to the symptoms and signs of inflammation of the vulva and vagina, which is caused by an overgrowth of yeast (called Candida) in the vagina. Itchiness around the vagina is perhaps the most recognisable symptom of vaginal thrush and can be very frustrating for those who experience it. Inflammation is the vulva and vagina’s response to the overgrowth of yeast, and the inflammation is what causes itching and redness of these areas.

While there is a plethora of information online promising different ways to ‘cure’ this itching, there is very limited evidence that these cures work, so it’s best to follow your doctor’s advice where it comes to treatment and prevention. Here, we have outlined five evidence-backed ways to help you manage your symptoms and to soothe your itching thrush.

1. Check that you actually do have vaginal thrush

Firstly, it is important to make sure the itching you are experiencing is actually caused by thrush and not something else. One study found that around half the participants who self-diagnosed themselves with vaginal thrush actually had a different condition.1 Other causes of vulval and vaginal itch could be eczema, a sexually transmitted infection, or other types of infections or skin conditions. If it is something else besides thrush causing the itching, the treatment for the itch will be different.

If you are experiencing vulval or vaginal itchiness, or any other symptoms of thrush (for example, a change in your usual vaginal discharge, soreness or burning, pain with sex, pain passing urine, redness, or swelling), you should see your doctor. Your doctor or nurse may need to examine you if they think you have another condition besides thrush, which could be causing your symptoms.

2. If it is thrush, you’re likely to be recommended fluconazole

If you have thrush, treating the overgrowth of yeast removes the cause of the inflammation, and thus treats the itch. Treatment usually involves taking an oral tablet called fluconazole. Fluconazole should be avoided if you are pregnant, at risk of pregnancy, or breastfeeding. If this is the case, you can use clotrimazole, which comes as a tablet or cream that you insert into the vagina. Fluconazole and clotrimazole are recommended as first-line treatments for vaginal thrush.2 These medicines have been found to clear up thrush in over 80% of cases.3

If itching persists after vaginal thrush treatment it is important to see your GP for appropriate tests

Your doctor may prescribe something else depending on any contraindications or cautions presented by your personal circumstances, including any underlying conditions you might have.

It is important to remember that clotrimazole can damage latex condoms. You can get fluconazole and clotrimazole from pharmacies, your GP, or sexual health clinics. The itching should resolve within a few days of taking treatment.

3. Treat an underlying medical condition

For some, vaginal thrush persists despite treatment because of an underlying medical condition, like diabetes or immune problems. If itching persists after vaginal thrush treatment it is important to see your GP for appropriate tests. It may be that treating an underlying medical condition is needed before you can adequately manage vaginal thrush and its associated itchiness.

People with diabetes are more at risk of thrush due to their increased blood sugar levels, which can encourage growth of Candida. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control can help to reduce the risk of thrush and help to manage your symptoms.4
 


Read: Do home remedies for thrush actually work?


4. Take recommended preventative measures

Other measures may be helpful if vaginal thrush persists, despite treatment. These can include avoiding wearing non-breathable fabrics, avoiding using soap to clean the vulval area (particularly perfumed soaps), avoiding scented wipes and vaginal deodorants, avoiding washing your hair in bath water (as bathing in water with shampoo can be irritating to the vagina), and avoiding vaginal douching.5 These can all cause irritation to the vagina and encourage the growth of Candida.

There is no evidence that natural remedies, supplements, or changes in diet help with vaginal thrush — this includes yoghurt, tea tree and other essential oils, and probiotics

Vaginal douching should always be avoided – it can disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria, which then favours the growth of Candida yeast and results in vaginal thrush. Wearing loose-fitting clothing and using a soap-free or non-soap cleanser or aqueous cream for washing can help avoid irritation of the vagina too.

If itching persists after taking vaginal thrush treatment it is important to see your GP for further tests. They may also prescribe some creams or tablets to help prevent further recurrences of thrush.

5. Don’t waste your money on natural ‘cures’ and fixes

There is no evidence that natural remedies, supplements, or changes in diet help with vaginal thrush — this includes yoghurt, tea tree and other essential oils, and probiotics.6 The only exception is boric acid.

Boric acid may be used to prevent and treat recurrent vaginal thrush.7 However, it can be irritating and is toxic, so should be stored safely away from children and animals, and it should not be used during pregnancy. Boric acid should only be used after consultation with your doctor, otherwise it can cause vaginal irritation.
 
Featured image is of a person looking at two small vials that appear to contain natural oils, as if considering whether they should use them. The person is standing in their bathroom and only their hands and left shoulder are visible in the frame

Page last updated January 2020
Next update due 2022

Dr Sarah Borg (MBBS, DFSRH, MPH, MSc)

Dr Sarah Borg is an Australian-trained Public Health Medical Registrar and a writer. She completed her Master’s degrees in the UK and has spent time working in both Australia and the UK. She is currently working as a Consultant for the World Health Organisation (WHO), contributing to the development of innovative learning solutions that support health workers on the delivery of priority, essential health services for sexual and reproductive health and rights during the COVID‐19 pandemic. She was previously working as Senior Advisor – Clinical Evidence at MSI Reproductive Choices and as a Speciality Doctor in Sexual Health in London. Sarah is passionate about the use of social media to inform the public on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues – she posts regularly about this topic on her Instagram: @drsarahb.

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References

  1. Ferris, D.G., et al., Women’s use of over-the-counter antifungal medications for gynecologic symptoms, Journal of Family Practice, June 1996, vol 42, no 6, pp 595-600
  2. BASHH, Guideline for the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis, Clinical Effectiveness Group, British Associations for Sexual Health and HIV, 2019 [online] (accessed 5 January 2020)
  3. Ibid
  4. NICE, Candida – female genital, Clinical Knowledge Summary, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, May 2017 [online] (accessed 5 January 2020)
  5. Ibid
  6. BASHH, Guideline for the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis, Clinical Effectiveness Group, British Associations for Sexual Health and HIV, 2019 [online] (accessed 5 January 2020)
  7. Ibid