Signs and Symptoms of Thrush

Often difficult to recognize, thrush can have a wide variety of symptoms, including a white coating on the inside of your mouth and throat. While it’s rarely dangerous—and not always painful—thrush can lead to life-threatening infections in other parts of the body if it is left untreated. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek immediate treatment if you notice signs or symptoms of thrush in yourself or your child.

Common Symptoms

The medical term for thrush is “oral candidiasis,” which refers to a genus of yeasts called candida. This yeast lives naturally in the mucous membranes lining your mouth and digestive tract but can reproduce rapidly under certain conditions.

Typically caused by a species of yeast called candida albicans, thrush may trigger the following signs and symptoms:

  • White coating or patches on the inner cheeks, tongue, roof of mouth, tonsils, and throat
  • Redness or soreness in the mouth and/or throat
  • A cottony feeling in the mouth
  • Loss of taste
  • A burning sensation on the tongue
  • Pain while eating and/or swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Cracking and redness at the corners of the mouth

Sometimes described as creamy or velvety, the white coating associated with thrush may have a sore-like appearance. When scraped off with a tongue depressor, this white coating usually reveals red, inflamed spots. These spots often bleed upon scraping, or when you brush your teeth.

Thrush often weakens your sense of taste, which can take the enjoyment out of eating and drinking. Even after brushing their teeth and practicing other components of good oral hygiene, people with thrush may still notice an unpleasant cottony sensation in their mouths.

In Children

In infants, issues such as fussiness and irritability during feeding may be a sign of thrush, although some babies may not feel any discomfort.

Oral signs and symptoms of thrush (such as the white coating inside the mouth and throat) are the same for babies, children, and adults alike.

Infants may pass this infection off to their mothers during breastfeeding, which can lead to skin symptoms like cracked, red, or sensitive nipples, shiny or flaky skin on or around the nipple, extreme pain during breastfeeding, and painful nipples between feedings. If thrush goes untreated, the infant and mother may continue to pass the infection back and forth to each other in a constantly repeating cycle.

Complications

For people with certain medical conditions, those with an impaired immune system (such as individuals undergoing cancer treatment or people with HIV/AIDS), and very low-birth-weight infants, prompt treatment is especially important to prevent complications. When thrush is left untreated in someone who may have an increased risk of complications, candida could enter the bloodstream and promote the spread of candida infection to other parts of your body (known as systemic candidiasis).

Systemic candidiasis can cause a number of serious and even life-threatening illnesses, such as meningitis (in the brain) and endocarditis (in the heart).

Such infections can also affect your esophagus (causing esophagitis), eyes (endophthalmitis), and joints (arthritis).

Some infants will develop diaper rash if the yeast gets into the baby's stool.

When to See a Doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • Your baby or child refuses to eat
  • You or your child have symptoms of thrush such as the white coating or patches inside the mouth
  • You are breastfeeding and have cracked or painful nipples (or other symptoms of infection of the breasts)
  • You or your child have thrush symptoms that fail to improve with treatment or if symptoms recur
  • You or your child develop new or worsening symptoms

    Since the presence of thrush in healthy adults and in older children or teens generally manifests when a person's immune system is weakened or if you have certain medical conditions, it’s important to consult your physician to determine whether you might need to be evaluated for an underlying health problem. For instance, medical conditions such as diabetes are sometimes associated with thrush.

    If you aren't sure whether your immune system is impaired and/or you are at greater risk of complications, see your doctor. Many common medications (such as corticosteroids and antibiotics), can lower a person's immune response.

    Sources:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.” August 2017.

    Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “Oral thrush (oral candidiasis): Overview.

    Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “The prevention and treatment of oral thrush.” May 2016.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Candidiasis.”