Oral Thrush: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments
If you notice a strange white rash inside your mouth, you may have a condition called thrush. It’s an infection caused by the candida fungus, which is yeast. You can get it in your mouth and other parts of the body. It can cause diaper rash in infants or vaginal yeast infections in women.
Anyone can get thrush, but it happens most often to babies and toddlers, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
What Causes Thrush?
Small amounts of the candida fungus are in your mouth, digestive tract, and skin. It’s supposed to be there, and it’s usually kept under control by the other bacteria in your body. But sometimes, certain illnesses or medications, like corticosteroids or antibiotics, can disturb the balance. This can cause the fungus to grow out of control. That’s when you get thrush.
Stress can cause it. So can several medical conditions, like:
If you smoke or wear dentures that don’t fit right might, you’re also more likely to get thrush. And babies can pass the infection to their mothers while breastfeeding.
What Are the Symptoms?
Children and adults
Initially, you may not even notice symptoms of oral thrush. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Creamy white lesions on your tongue, inner cheeks, and sometimes on the roof of your mouth, gums, and tonsils
- Slightly raised lesions with a cottage cheese-like appearance
- Redness, burning or soreness that may be severe enough to cause difficulty eating or swallowing
- Slight bleeding if the lesions are rubbed or scraped
- Cracking and redness at the corners of your mouth
- A cottony feeling in your mouth
- Loss of taste
- Redness, irritation, and pain under dentures (denture stomatitis)
In severe cases, usually related to cancer or a weakened immune system from HIV/AIDS, the lesions may spread downward into your esophagus — the long, muscular tube stretching from the back of your mouth to your stomach (Candida esophagitis). If this occurs, you may experience difficulty swallowing and pain or feel as if food is getting stuck in your throat.
Infants and breast-feeding mothers
In addition to the distinctive white mouth lesions, infants may have trouble feeding or be fussy and irritable. They can pass the infection to their mothers during breast-feeding. The infection may then pass back and forth between the mother’s breasts and the baby’s mouth.
Women whose breasts are infected with candida may experience these signs and symptoms:
- Unusually red, sensitive, cracked or itchy nipples
- Shiny or flaky skin on the darker, circular area around the nipple (areola)
- Unusual pain during nursing or painful nipples between feedings
- Stabbing pains deep within the breast
The goal of any oral thrush treatment is to stop the rapid spread of the fungus, but the best approach may depend on your age, your overall health, and the cause of the infection. Eliminating underlying causes, when possible, can prevent a recurrence.
- Healthy adults and children. Your doctor may recommend an antifungal medication. This comes in several forms, including lozenges, tablets, or a liquid that you wish in your mouth and then swallow. If these topical medications are not effective, medication may be given that works throughout your body.
- Infants and nursing mothers. If you’re breast-feeding and your infant has oral thrush, you and your baby could pass the infection back and forth. Your doctor may prescribe a mild antifungal medication for your baby and an antifungal cream for your breasts.
- Adults with weakened immune systems. Most often your doctor will recommend an antifungal medication.
Thrush may return even after it’s been treated if the underlying cause, such as poorly disinfected dentures or inhaled steroid use, isn’t addressed.
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