Symptoms of Oral Thrush and How to Treat Oral Thrush

Are You at Risk for Oral Thrush?

symptoms of oral thrush, how to treat oral thrush, oral thrush causesOral candidiasis – commonly referred to as oral thrush – is a yeast infection of the mouth and throat that’s relatively uncommon in healthy adults.

It’s normal for germs like bacteria and fungi to live inside the body in controlled numbers. Under certain conditions, they grow more rapidly, and in greater numbers, cause an infection. Oral thrush occurs when the fungus Candida – which thrives in warm, moist environments like the mouth and genitals – begins to grow out of control in the mouth, usually because of a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of Oral Thrush

Symptoms of oral thrush can be painful and may include:

  • White or yellowish patches on the tongue or mouth
  • Redness/soreness in the affected area
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Cracking at the corners of the mouth

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. The faster you start treatment, the sooner the infection will go away.

Who’s at Risk?

Healthy people with strong immune systems are normally not at risk of contracting oral thrush. The infection occurs most frequently in babies, the elderly, and people with health conditions that weaken the immune system.[1]

Additionally, you’re more likely to come down with oral thrush if you:

  • Have HIV/AIDS
  • Have poor-fitting dentures
  • Have undergone an organ transplant
  • Are undergoing chemotherapy
  • Have diabetes and your blood sugar is high
  • Are taking antibiotics, which kill normal bacteria in the mouth that prevent infection
  • Use medication like steroids that weaken the immune system, including certain inhalers for COPD and asthma

How to Treat Oral Thrush

Oral thrush must be treated with a prescription antifungal medication prescribed by your doctor. There are several factors that determine the type of medication you’ll receive, and the length of time for which you’ll receive it: the severity of infection, your age, and the current state of your immune system.

Usually, oral thrush responds to topical treatments that are applied inside the mouth, for example nystatin “swish and swallow”, or clotrimazole troches. When oral thrush doesn’t respond to topical treatments, an antifungal medication taken by mouth or administered directly into the bloodstream through a vein may be necessary.[2]

Preventing Oral Thrush

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, practicing good oral hygiene helps prevent oral thrush in people with weakened immune systems. Moreover, studies suggest that chlorhexidine (CHX) mouthwash helps prevent oral thrush in people undergoing treatment for cancer. Lastly, people with certain lung diseases, such as COPD and asthma, who use inhaled steroids can help prevent oral thrush by rinsing out the mouth with water or mouthwash after each use.[3]

[1] “Who Gets Oral Candidiasis?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 13, 2014.

2 “Treatment and Outcomes of Oral Candidiasis” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 13, 2014.

[3] “How can I Prevent Oral Candidiasis?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 13, 2014.

by Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

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