Candida albicans is a common fungal organism that is present in the gastrointestinal tract and mouth of between 40% and 60% of healthy adults. Harmless in small amounts, this pathogenic yeast can multiply and cause a yeast infection if the conditions are right. Thrush is one of the most common yeast infections, causing symptoms in areas of softer skin with high levels of moisture, such as the genitals, mouth, armpits or even between the toes. Genital thrush is most common amongst women, with 3 in 4 women encountering vaginal thrush at least once in their lifetime, and approximately 5% of them experiencing recurring thrush, but it can also occur in men.
In this article, we’ll unpack recurring thrush and outline common reasons why thrush keeps coming back. To learn more about thrush in general, check out our article on answering your top thrush questions here.
What is recurring thrush?
Recurring or recurrent thrush is characterised by having three or more thrush infections within one year, or if you’re taking antibiotics, four or more episodes within one year. Different from a persistent infection, recurring thrush features periods of time without symptoms in between infection, where it goes away and comes back.
What causes recurring thrush?
There’s no single reason why thrush symptoms come back again and again, but there are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing thrush, and a number of common triggers for the infection.
What are the risk factors for recurring thrush?
You have an increased risk of developing thrush if you fall into one or more of these categories:
You’re taking antibiotic medication
Whilst antibiotics don’t directly cause thrush, the way antibiotics work can increase the risk of developing thrush. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections, but they can reduce the number of good bacteria too, making it easier for the fungus that causes thrush to multiply and cause infection. It’s important you continue using antibiotics if your doctor has prescribed them to you, as bacterial infections can more quickly become a serious health risk if not eliminated. For most antibiotics, you can still take antifungal thrush medication, but it’s best to check with your doctor whether there are any interactions between your particular antibiotic and certain thrush treatments.
Your partner has thrush
If your partner has thrush, either male or female, they may reinfect you. Make sure both you and your partner are effectively managing your thrush symptoms to prevent frequently reinfecting each other. If one of you has an active thrush infection, it’s best to avoid having sex until the infection has cleared.
You didn’t finish your full course of treatment
If you stopped using your thrush treatment earlier than recommended, you may not have eliminated the overgrowth of the fungus, meaning it will restart its multiplication if the conditions are right. It’s important that you adhere to the patient guides for the full duration of the treatment, and for longer if your treatment allows for this.
During pregnancy, your body experiences fluctuations in female hormones such as oestrogen, which increases your chances of getting thrush symptoms. Oral tablet medication, such as Fluconazole, is not recommended to be taken when pregnant, but some topical treatments may be appropriate. However, you should see your GP or midwife before using any thrush treatments, as they will need to check you for other conditions like STIs, and are able to recommend the right course of action for your individual case.
You have HIV or another autoimmune disease
When your immune system is compromised, your body can find it harder to fight infection, and conditions like thrush become more common. Chemotherapy treatment for cancer can also weaken the immune system, and it’s quite common to experience oral thrush as a side effect. It’s important to consult your doctor before taking thrush treatment if you are having chemotherapy or have a weakened immune system.
You have a genetic predisposition
Known as familial candidiasis, some people may have an inherited tendency to develop the thrush fungal infection repeatedly. If this is the case, you’re more likely to experience recurrent thrush from an early age, and you should consult your doctor about the best course of action depending on the frequency of your infections.
You have nutritional deficiencies
Several micronutrients are important for the proper function of the immune system. If these are lacking in your diet, you have an increased risk of developing fungal infections. Important nutrients to ensure you have sufficient amounts of in your diet include iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid.
Other factors that may trigger thrush
- Resistance to treatments
- Wearing tight clothing
- Sexual activity
- Hormone or vaginal pH changes
- Continuing using products that irritate sensitive areas, such as perfumed hygiene products. Instead, try the pH-balanced Femfresh Wash and Femfresh Wipes for cleansing intimate skin with minimal irritation.
Women can use a Canestest Self Test kit for helping to diagnose thrush or bacterial vaginosis by analysing the pH levels of the vagina.
How to treat recurring thrush
If you have had 2 or fewer thrush infections in the past 6 months, you can use prescription and pharmacy medication for treating thrush. It is important to note that if you have experienced a thrush infection three or more times in the last 6 months, we recommend talking to your doctor about the best treatment options before ordering treatment.
This one-time oral capsule medication can clear thrush in just two days. Fluconazole capsules disrupt the production of ergosterol, an essential component of fungal cell membranes, preventing the spread of the fungus and helping to restore the balance of natural bacteria in the body.
Canesten contains the active ingredient clotrimazole, a powerful antifungal medication that actively fights infection. Canesten External 1% and Canesten External 2% are external clotrimazole creams used to heal rashes caused by thrush on the penis, vulva or labia, and other areas externally. Canesten Internal cream and Canesten Pessary can be used by women to target the source of the infection internally.
How to prevent recurring thrush
If you keep experiencing thrush infections, you should try the methods below to reduce common triggers and keep your prone area ventilated. Thrush treatments may not be effective in the long term if the conditions remain optimal for the fungus to multiply again. You should:
- Avoid perfumed soaps and shower gels
- Use condoms during sex
- Wear loose cotton underwear and clothing, and avoid tight-fitting clothing
- Fully dry the thrush-prone area after washing
- For thrush on the tongue, throat or mouth, you should practice good oral hygiene, clean your teeth and floss regularly, rinse with salt water, and avoid sugary foods.
For a breakdown of the best treatments for different types of fungal infections, check out our useful infographic here.
For more tips on vaginal thrush, preventing and treating UTIs, as well as maintaining a healthy vagina, check out our guide to feminine hygiene here.