One of the things that bothers me most about endometriosis is how fundamentally unfair it is. For me, most of that comes from all the other stuff we have to deal with as side-effects. That’s why I’m writing a three part series on the really glamorous aspects of endometriosis and how to deal with them.
I like thrushes. They are cute little birds, with cute little songs. They strike me as very English.
What I do not like is thrush the yeast infection, aka candida. It itches and burns in a way I cannot describe. It’s like when you shave your bikini line and you start to get the itchy stubbly regrowth, only ten times worse. Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy to get, particularly if you have endometriosis.
One thing I should clear up, which is an alarmingly common misconception. Thrush is NOT an STD. Yes, you can spread it through sexual contact, including catching it back off your own partner. However, people who have never even looked at another person in a sexual way can get it. Children can get it. Nuns can get it. There is no shame in suffering from thrush.
How do you know if you have thrush?
In addition to the horrendous itching, you may find you have little bumps down there as well as a lot of redness, like a rash. You will probably also notice abnormally thick white discharge, possibly with an odd smell. If you only have one of these symptoms, go to a doctor and get checked out. It might not be thrush, but something is wrong if you are experiencing any of these things.
How do you get thrush?
Basically, have a vagina. The vagina naturally contains small amounts of the yeast that makes up thrush – thrush is when there is too much yeast. Certain things do encourage an overgrowth of the yeast, including eating too much sugar or not maintaining personal hygiene in your crotch. I always found I was most likely to have an outbreak around my period, when trying to keep clean is impossible because as soon as you are clean your body just makes more mess. You should also avoid keeping anything damp down there – if you go swimming and get out of the pool, dry off and change into dry things immediately. Staying in your wet swimmers creates a warm, damp environment that candida just loves. Try and wear natural cotton undies whenever possible, as they are breathable. Synthetic is more likely to make you sweat – again, warmth and dampness. For the same reason, loose clothes are better than tight ones, although plenty of work environments don’t give much of a choice, particularly if tights are required.
Another important preventative tip is to have a healthy diet and supplement with probiotics – good bacteria in the body can help prevent thrush from growing. Also take vitamin C to encourage a strong immune system.
Make sure you aren’t douching or using soaps or wipes marketed as vagina-cleaning; they are a gimmick and kill of the good bacteria that live in the vagina and help keep the candida in check. Likewise, perfumes, sprays or scented pads or tampons are bad ideas.
Two reasons that people with endo are particularly likely to get thrush are the fact that we have to take antibiotics so regularly, and that we are often taking estrogen-based contraceptives. Both antibiotics and excessive estrogen can upset the bacterial balance in the body and send the candida all wacky.
Personally, I’ve noticed a massive reduction in my rates of getting this pesky infection since I started taking probiotics regularly, and switched to a progesterone-based contraceptive.
How can you treat thrush?
The single best way is to get the anti-fungal medication and soothing cream from your pharmacist. If you can afford an appointment with your GP first, it’s a good idea, as some infections may seem like thrush but aren’t, and thrush medication may make them worse. However, if you are prone to thrush you are probably going to be able to self-diagnose pretty well, and you don’t need a prescription for Canesten and its various generic knock-offs. Because of my terrible immune system, my GP long ago recommended two treatment courses back-to-back. I get a lot of side-eye from pharmacists about this, but once I say it is doctor-recommended they generally give me what I need.
There are natural remedies for thrush as well. I have never tried them myself – I don’t want to mess about with anything but the tried and true in such a delicate area, particularly with such a shonky immune system. However, many women swear by inserting a garlic glove into the vagina or giving themselves a greek yoghurt suppository. I am not keen on sticking edibles in the wrong end, and leaving them in too long may well cause an infection, so if you try this, please remove the garlic in good time. If you go down the yoghurt route, make sure it is all natural with no sugar, as candida feeds on sugar.
Other people have suggested tea tree oil on a tampon. Please be careful with this! Tea tree oil, especially undiluted, is an irritant and this could sting like a swarm of bees. If you try this, dilute it properly and do a patch test on less sensitive skin to ensure you aren’t allergic to tea tree. An alternative might be oil of oregano, but that’s a blood thinner, so don’t use it if you are already on thinners or have a condition that makes blood thinners dangerous.
Coconut oil, boric acid (use with caution!), aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, baking soda, and diluted hydrogen peroxide are also all topical treatments that are popular as home remedies. If you are a normally health and resilient person, you may well be safe relying on these alone (as long as they are applied properly and safely). However, if you are pregnant, immuno-compromised, prone to recurrent thrush infections, or have or recently have had an STD, it is safer to simply purchase the over-the-counter stuff. You may be able to use things like baking soda in a bath as pain relief or soothing, but I would not rely on it alone for treatment.
Have you had much luck with home remedies? What do you find the most effective way of dealing with and preventing thrush? Any tips I haven’t included?