Is Thrush Contagious?

Reviewed on 12/22/2020

What Is Thrush?

Thrush in itself is usually not contagious. Technically, oral thrush might be transmitted through kissing or oral sex, though it is rare. However, nursing infants with oral thrush may transmit it to the mother's breast by contact.
Thrush in itself is usually not contagious. Technically, oral thrush might be transmitted through kissing or oral sex, though it is rare. However, nursing infants with oral thrush may transmit it to the mother's breast by contact.

Thrush (oropharyngeal candidiasis) is a fungal infection caused by a yeast-shaped fungus called Candida albicans that affects the mouth and throat. 

Most healthy people have Candida in their mouth, digestive tract, and on their skin, and the body's normal bacteria keep it in check. When an overgrowth of Candida occurs, it leads to a yeast infection of the mouth or throat.

The Candida fungus also causes diaper rash and adults can develop yeast infections of the skin in skin folds and creases.

Thrush is not the same as a vaginal yeast infection (moniliasis).

What Are Symptoms of Thrush?

Thrush may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of oral thrush do occur, they may include:

  • White patches on the inside of the cheeks, on the tongue, or on back of the throat 
    • Can look like cottage cheese
    • Tissue under the white patches may be red, raw, and sore
    • Lesions may be painful
    • May bleed 
  • Redness inside the mouth without white patches (in people who wear dentures)
  • Cotton-mouth/dry mouth
  • Pain with eating and swallowing
  • Cracked lips (cheilosis)
  • Feeling as if something is stuck in the throat
  • Sore throat
  • Unpleasant or unusual taste in mouth
  • Bad breath

What Causes Thrush?

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida species of fungus in the mouth or throat. 

Triggers for an overgrowth of Candida include: 

Is Thrush Contagious?

Thrush in itself is usually not contagious. Technically, oral thrush might be transmitted through kissing or oral sex, though it is rare. 

However, nursing infants with oral thrush may transmit it to the mother's breast by contact.

How Is Thrush Diagnosed?

Thrush can be diagnosed with an oral examination by a doctor or dentist.

The diagnosis of thrush may be confirmed by an oral scraping in which a healthcare provider will take a swab of the white substance from the tongue or cheek to be analyzed. 

If thrush is suspected farther down the throat or in the esophagus, an endoscopy may be performed, and a biopsy may be taken.

What Is the Treatment for Thrush?

Oral thrush is treated with: 

Infants, toddlers, and children may not require treatment. If thrush persists for several weeks in children, a pediatrician may prescribe antifungal nystatin (Mycostatin, Nilstat, Nystex) drops.

What Are Complications of Thrush?

Complications of oral thrush include: 

  • Burning mouth syndrome
    • Symptoms include painful burning sensation, mouth dryness, soreness, tingling or numbness throughout the mouth and tongue, and sometimes an abnormal bitter or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Thrush in the esophagus
    • Symptoms include pain with swallowing
  • Systemic infection
    • Due to a weakened immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, chemotherapy, etc.), the Candida fungus can spread to other parts of the body 
    • Symptoms include fever, shaking or chills, or difficulty swallowing
    • Contact a doctor right away if you experience these symptoms 

How Do You Prevent Thrush?

Thrush can be prevented by modifying risk factors that contribute to Candida fungus overgrowth. Lifestyle modifications include: 

  • Maintain proper oral hygiene
    • Brush and floss teeth and gums regularly
    • Brush teeth at least twice daily for about 2 minutes
    • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride
    • See a dentist regularly
  • Make sure dentures are clean, well-fitted, and properly maintained
  • Don’t smoke
  • Manage diabetes 
  • Eat a healthy, balanced, low in sugar and yeast products
  • Only use antibiotics as prescribed by a physician
  • For people who take immunosuppressant medications, chlorhexidine (Peridex, Hibiclens) mouthwash may be recommended 
  • For babies or nursing infants 
    • Keep pacifiers and bottle nipples clean and sterilized
    • Nursing mothers should talk to their doctor about over-the-counter or prescribed medications before breastfeeding because some drugs can increase the risk developing thrush

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Reviewed on 12/22/2020
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/thrush-the-basics

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/969147-overview

https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/thrush/