Oral Thrush

Oral thrush refers to a disease which results in the deposition of the fungus Candida albicans along the lining of the mouth.

Oral thrush results in the formation of whitish, creamy lesions, particularly on the inside of the cheeks or on the tongue. Such lesions may cause pain and experience slight bleeding when scraped. Occasionally, oral thrush may affect the gums, roof of the mouth, the back of the throat or the tonsils.

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Oral thrush can occur in all individuals. However, it is more likely to affect people who inhale corticosteroids, wear dentures or have weakened immune systems, as well as babies. In healthy individuals, oral thrush is a minor condition. However, in people with impaired immune systems, the signs of oral thrush can be more serious and problematic to control.

Oral thrush symptoms and signs

Some of the signs and symptoms of oral thrush are as follows:

  • In adults and children: The initial symptoms are barely noticeable, but when they develop, their onset is sudden and often last for long durations.
    • Whitish, creamy lesions can affect the inner cheeks, tongue and occasionally the tonsils, gums and roof of the mouth.
    • Loss of taste
    • Pain
    • The lesions may look like cottage cheese
    • Minor bleeding, when the lesions are scraped or rubbed
    • A cotton-like sensation in the mouth
    • The corners of the mouth may elicit redness and cracking, particularly in use of dentures
    • In extreme cases, the lesions may travel below and affect the esophagus. This condition is known as Candida esophagitis and can result in symptoms such as swallowing difficulties and a feeling of the food being trapped in the throat.
    • In breast-feeding mothers and infants: Infants affected by oral thrush may experience fussiness, irritability and feeding problems, along with the unique lesions in the mouth. The infection can spread to the mothers while breast feeding. Mothers affected by Candida infection of the breasts may elicit the below listed symptoms:
      • Increasingly sensitive, reddish or itchy nipples
      • Nipple pain between baby feedings or abnormal pain while nursing
      • Flaky or shiny skin on the areola, i.e. the circular, darker region surrounding the nipple
      • Prickly pain may be experienced deep inside the breast

Causes of oral thrush

  • Oral thrush and other infections of Candida can be caused due to presence of a compromised immune system, or intake of medications like prednisone, or due to diseases, or due to disturbance of the natural balance of the body’s microorganisms by antibiotics
  • In healthy individuals, the immune system protects the body against attack by different pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi, while preserving the balance between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ microorganisms normally occurring in the body. However, occasionally there may be a failure of these protective mechanisms leading to invasion by an oral thrush infection.

The below mentioned ailments can elevate the vulnerability to oral thrush infections:

  • HIV/AIDS is a deadly disease which destroys or damages the immune system cells. Repeated episodes of oral thrush is considered as the first symptom of an HIV infection
  • Uncontrolled or untreated cases of diabetes can lead to excessive quantities of sugar in the saliva, thereby facilitating Candida to flourish.
  • Cancers and their treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, thereby increasing the susceptibility to oral thrush infections
  • Pregnant women with yeast infections of the vagina can pass on the infection to the baby during delivery. This can result in an oral thrush infection in the newborn.
  • Smoking or presence of certain health conditions such as xerostomia or a dry mouth can also elevate the risk to developing oral thrush.

Oral thrush treatment

The treatment of oral thrush is carried out as per the overall health and age of the patient as well as the underlying cause of the infection. It is primarily aimed at preventing the rapid spread of the Candida fungus.

  • Treatment of oral thrush in children and healthy adults:
    • Intake of acidophilus tonic or capsules
    • Intake of unsweetened yogurt
    • Acidophilus and yogurt do not kill the fungus, but they aid in the restoration of the balance of normal bacteria inhabiting the body. Persistent cases, will require treatment with antifungal drugs
    • Treatment of oral thrush in nursing mothers and infants:
        • In this case, both the baby and the mother have to be treated for oral thrush infections. This is because the infection can keep on spreading from the infant to the mother and vice versa.
        • The baby will be prescribed a mild antifungal drug, while the mother will be recommended an antifungal cream for the breasts
        • Women who use a breast pump must ensure that the detachable sections which come in contact with their milk are cleaned and washed in a solution of water and vinegar
        • Also, the nipples of a milk bottle as well as a pacifier have to be cleaned daily and dried to avoid the growth of fungus
        • Treatment of oral thrush in adults with compromised immune systems:
        • Intake of antifungal medications in the form of liquids, tablets or lozenges
        • Intake of Amphotericin B drug, when other medications do not resolve oral thrush infections

      Oral thrush pictures

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