What is Thrush?

Thrush is a yeast infection commonly found in the mouth and on the tongue. It can happen at any age but is more common in newborns, infants and older adults.

Thrush causes white patches in the mouth and on the tongue. It is caused when a yeast called Candida, normally found on the body, grows out of control. In babies, their immune systems are not strong enough to control the growth of the yeast. In older people, thrush is caused because their immune systems can weaken with age. Certain medications, such as antibiotics or inhaled corticosteroids, may cause thrush. People who have certain health problems, such as diabetes or HIV, are also more likely to get thrush.

Parents might mistake the white patches of thrush for milk or formula. It can look like cottage cheese or milk curds. Do not wipe them away because they can get red and sore. It is not uncommon for some babies with thrush to get cranky and not want to eat.

See a family doctor for treatment options to keep the thrush from spreading. Thrush is usually treated with prescribed antifungal medicines, which slow down the growth of yeast, that are either applied directly to the affected area or swallowed. A baby might also get a diaper rash at the same time as thrush so a doctor may prescribe a cream or ointment for the diaper area. For adults, they will first probably use medicine that goes directly on the white patches, such as a liquid or a lozenge. If these don't work, the doctor may prescribe an antifungal pill.

If your baby has thrush, it may help to clean bottle nipples and pacifiers regularly using hot water. After breast-feeding, the mother should dry her nipples and apply lanolin lotion. The doctor may also prescribe a medicine for the nipples as breast-feeding mothers and babies can pass a yeast infection back and forth.

Denture wearers should be sure to clean their mouth and dentures every night. Soak the dentures overnight in a cleaner and rinse well after soaking them.

By Michael Fetterolf, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.