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Male thrush: Symptoms, treatment, prevention

Thrush is a yeast infection, also known as candidiasis. Both men and women can develop thrush, but it is far more common in women, affecting three out of four at some time in their lives. Thrush infection in men most commonly affects the head of the penis and is known as candidal balanitis. Candida infection can also cause skin rashes on various parts of the body and oral thrush.

Causes of male thrush

The fungus candida albicans, that causes thrush, occurs naturally in our bodies. In healthy circumstances it is harmless, but when you are run down, or your body’s immune system is compromised, candida can grow excessively almost anywhere in the body. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes, can also encourage the fungus to multiply and lead to infection.

Candidal balanitis

Symptoms of candidal balanitis affect the head of the penis and may include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching and irritation
  • Thick, lumpy discharge under the foreskin
  • Unpleasant smell
  • Pain during urination
  • Problems pulling back the foreskin
  • Pain during sex

Men with diabetes may develop more severe symptoms such as intense redness of the head of the penis and pain.

Candidal skin infection

Candida infection can cause painful, itchy, skin rashes in other areas of the body including:

  • Armpits
  • Groin area
  • Between fingers
  • Skin between the penis and anus

Obese men may develop rashes between rolls of skin.

Oral thrush

Symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Creamy white bumps on tongue or inner cheeks
  • Bumps or lesions can be painful and bleed
  • Lesions can spread to roof of mouth, gums, tonsils or throat

Who is at risk of male thrush?

You are at risk of developing thrush if you:

  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Are obese (the fungus can thrive in large rolls of skin)
  • Have type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Have HIV
  • Are on antibiotics that kill the friendly bacteria, which normally suppress candida
  • Are on topical or oral corticosteroids
  • Have damage to the mucous membranes in the mouth or GI tract
  • Wear tight clothing such as lycra or nylon shorts or tight jeans
  • Have sex with someone who has a thrush infection

Can men get thrush during sex?

Vaginal thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection but it can sometimes be passed on to a man during sex. This is rare and depends on whether you have a compromised immune system or other risk factors.

If you already have thrush, your infection can be made worse during sex. The safest course of action is to avoid having sex until you've completed a course of treatment and the infection has cleared up.

Gay men can also develop thrush after unprotected sexual intercourse. This usually clears up with treatment, but avoiding sex or using a condom is best until the infection is gone.

Some men may get a mild form of balanitis (inflammation of the penis) after having sex. This may be caused by an allergy to the candida fungus in a partner’s vagina. This usually clears up if the partner gets treatment.

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