What is Oral Thrush?

Oral thrush is common in infants but can also occur in adults. The condition is caused by a yeast overgrowth in the mouth, which leads to a thick, white covering on the tongue and inside the cheeks. Small lesions, along with other symptoms, can also occur.

The Symptoms

Thrush most commonly develops in young infants. Adults with lowered immune system function and those who are taking certain medications can also develop oral thrush. Symptoms develop over the course of a few days, beginning with a white coating and slight pain in the mouth. Any small lesions that develop inside the mouth may bleed slightly, and the mouth will be painful. Infants may resist feeding if thrush is present, especially when the condition is severe. Breastfeeding mothers may also experience symptoms of thrush.

Unusually red or painful breasts accompanied by oral thrush symptoms in a breastfed infant should be treated as soon as possible because the condition can be passed back and forth between mother and baby, making feeding time difficult. Both the mother and the child will need to be treated for thrush symptoms to ensure the condition is eliminated rather than passed back and forth. When left untreated, thrush can spread into the throat. Thrush in the throat makes eating and drinking uncomfortable. Patients will often complain of feeling something stuck in their throat when thrush is present in the esophagus and may experience itching and pain in the affected area.

Treatment Options

Oral thrush is very typical in small infants, but may indicate another disease or illness in otherwise healthy teens and adults. Seeking medical treatment is the only way to cure thrush. Prescription medications are given to eliminate the yeast in the mouth, or for breastfeeding women, a topical ointment can be used to treat thrush infections of the breasts. Testing for other conditions may also be needed if an adolescent or an adult develops thrush.

Bottle feeding moms will need to sterilize feeding equipment on a daily basis to kill yeast on bottles and nipples. Sterilization of feeding implements should continue until the baby’s physician recommends otherwise. While the condition is very common and easily treatable in infants, older children and some adults may have a more serious underlying cause for developing oral thrush. For instance, when left untreated, diabetes can be a contributing factor to the development of thrush in teens and adults. If oral thrush is caused by dentures, taking medications to kill the yeast and cleaning dentures thoroughly each day is recommended for eliminating the infection.

Prompt treatment of oral thrush is particularly important when there is a lowered or compromised immune system. People undergoing treatment for cancer, for instance, are at a higher risk for developing advanced thrush that invades other parts of the body, including the lungs. With prompt treatment, oral thrush can be eliminated within a short time for healthy infants and adults.