John Carew, MD, is board-certified in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. He is an adjunct assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center and NYU Medical Center.
Thrush is an oral yeast infection that commonly affects newborns and younger children, but it may also affect adults with weakened immune systems.
Thrush is caused by Candida albicans, a yeast that's also responsible for vaginal yeast infections and yeast diaper rashes. Thrush is known to prompt symptoms such as white patches or a white coating in the mouth, as well as redness and burning.
Candida naturally live in the mouth and other areas of the body without causing any issues. But if your immune system is impaired by a health condition or medication, yeast can start to get out of control, leading to thrush.
While thrush can resolve on its own, over-the-counter options may help it along. In some cases, it may need to be treated with antifungal prescription drugs.
Thrush is not considered contagious. It is not typically passed from person to person, unless one person has a weakened immune system. In some instances, thrush can be passed back and forth between an infant and breastfeeding mother.
Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of a yeast called Candida albicans. Candida populations are usually harmless unless they grow out of control, which sometimes happens after a course of oral antibiotics, if you're taking inhaled steroids (as with asthma), have poor oral hygiene, or if your immune system is suppressed.
Mild cases of thrush may be left to resolve on their own, with a focus on oral hygiene and home remedies such as active-culture yogurt to manage symptoms. In mild cases of thrush that appear after taking antibiotics, over-the-counter probiotics or antifungals may be necessary. In more aggressive cases, a prescription antifungal might be warranted, depending on your age and the severity.
Thrush typically shows up as a velvety white coating or creamy patches that appear on the inner surfaces of the mouth. If a tongue depressor is used to scrape off the white coating, red, inflamed sores are revealed underneath.
In babies and children, mild cases of thrush may resolve in a week or two without treatment. However, thrush can be continually passed back and forth from a breastfeeding mother's nipple or from a pacifier or bottle to the infant's mouth, and vice versa. In these cases, antifungal treatments may be warranted. Thrush treatment options should always be discussed with your child's pediatrician.
Babies can get thrush from their mother while they're still in the womb, or after passing through the vaginal canal during birth. Because babies' immune systems aren't fully developed in the first few months of life, this may allow a normal Candida population to overgrow. Thrush may only be a minor irritation for a baby, but if it keeps recurring, talk to your pediatrician.
A surgical procedure that involves removing a sample of tissue to be studied. Your doctor may suggest a biopsy of the thrush lesions to confirm a diagnosis of Candida esophagitis.
A Candida infection in the esophagus (throat). Candida esophagitis commonly infects those living with HIV/AIDS who have suppressed immune systems, and it is also seen in those who use antibiotics frequently. Symptoms may include difficulty or pain with swallowing, or the infection may be asymptomatic. Treatment of the infection itself requires prescription antifungal drugs.
A diagnostic procedure in which a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera is inserted into your throat to better examine your esophagus, stomach, and upper portion of your small intestine. Endoscopy is considered the best way to determine the scope and severity of a Candida esophagitis infection.
An abnormal area of skin or tissue that appears as a result of an underlying condition. In thrush, creamy white lesions may appear on the inner cheeks, tongue, tonsils, roof of the mouth, and throat.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Thrush and other Candida infections. Updated November 21, 2015.
Coronado-Castellote L, Jiménez-Soriano Y. Clinical and microbiological diagnosis of oral candidiasis. J Clin Exp Dent. 2013;5(5):e279-e286. doi:10.4317/jced.51242
Robertson KD, Nagra N, Mehta D. Esophageal candidiasis. Aug. 8, 2020. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-.
Mohamed AA, Lu XL, Mounmin FA. Diagnosis and treatment of esophageal candidiasis: Current updates. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2019 Oct 20;2019. doi:10.1155/2019/3585136
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Updated June 15, 2020.
Patil S, Rao RS, Majumdar B, Anil S. Clinical appearance of oral candida infection and therapeutic strategies. Front Microbiol. 2015;6:1391. Published 2015 Dec 17. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.01391
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