Oral thrush is an infection caused by a common type of yeast or fungus called Candida albicans, which is naturally present in the organism. Candida albicans can be found in a variety of areas throughout the body including the mouth, gastrointestinal track, skin and vagina. When the delicate balance between yeasts and other bacteria in these environments is maintained, there is no issue. However, certain conditions can upset the natural balance of the flora, causing fungus to develop, multiply and grow uncontrollably. This can cause certain problems, depending on where the imbalance occurs. For example, vaginitis or diaper rash in infants can be caused by Candida albicans. When the symptoms appear in the mouth or throat, it is referred to as oral thrush.
Generally speaking, oral thrush is not contagious. It develops when the natural balance between the bacteria and the yeast in the mouth has been disturbed. A variety of factors can lead to such an occurrence, including:
- Diseases that compromise the immune system (ex. cancer, diabetes, AIDS);
- Poor dental hygiene;
- Taking antibiotics;
- Using inhaled corticosteroids;
- Wearing dentures, etc.
Oral thrush leads to the appearance of white patchy areas on the tongue, palate, inner cheeks and at the back of the throat. It may cause pain and make it uncomfortable to swallow. Small red lesions at the corners of the mouth may also be a sign of the condition.
Nursing infants are at risk for developing oral thrush. The symptoms, which are the same in adults and children, can cause problems for the mother. If the child is nursing, it can pass the infection on to its mother (this is the one transmission exception). In addition to experiencing pain when breastfeeding, the mother may also have sore, red nipples. Some people however, do not have any symptoms. If a child develops oral thrush, it is important to treat both the mother and the child to prevent retransmission once the child has been treated.
Oral thrush is a condition that is diagnosed by a physician who often makes a visual diagnosis simply by looking at the white lesions. It may be wise for the physician to take a sample to determine the source of the problem.
Generally speaking, oral thrush is treated with an oral antifungal agent (a drug that fights yeast). The product is used to rinse out the mouth and is then swallowed. It is recommended that the treatment be administered after having nursed or after having eaten. Creams or gels can also be applied to the lesions. Nursing mothers can apply a cream or ointment directly to the breasts.