Got an inconvenient penis itch? It could be a yeast infection. Here’s how to identify and treat thrush in men.
By Abbas Kanani
If you’ve developed an itch that you just can’t scratch (because it would mean constantly having your hands down your pants), or if you’ve noticed an odd discharge from your penis, your immediate reaction might be to panic that you have a STI. But you may simply have a yeast infection, also known as thrush.
The good news is thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection. So what exactly is it, why does it develop and most importantly, how do you make it go away? We speak to pharmacist Abbas Kanani about diagnosing and treating thrush in men:
What is thrush?
Thrush is caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. This occurs naturally in our bodies, especially in warm, moist areas, such as the mouth, under the armpits and in the genital region. It is kept under control by the immune system, but an overgrowth of the fungus can cause symptoms to arise.
Symptoms of thrush in men
Sometimes male thrush can be symptomless. However, if you do experience symptoms, these might include:
➡️ A white discharge that smells unpleasant.
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➡️ Pain when urinating.
➡️ Pain around the top of the penis while having sex.
➡️ Swelling around the foreskin region.
➡️ Redness around top of the penis region. This usually progresses to itchiness or burning around the tip of the penis and around the foreskin area.
The best treatments for male thrush
If you have thrush, try one of these over-the-counter treatments to help clear it up. Ask your pharmacist for the best option for you:
- Clotrimazole cream(such as Canesten 1%) – I recommend using the cream for a few days after the infection has cleared up.
- Fluconazole capsule(such as Canesten Oral Capsule) – this can be used in conjunction with a cream.
- Fluconazole capsule and clotrimazole cream(such as Canesten Thrush Duo).
Why do I have thrush?
Men can get thrush when the Candida albicans fungus multiples. This is more likely to happen if:
You have a weak immune system: the body’s defence mechanism isn’t as effective at controlling the fungus.
You are obese: the large rolls of skin are more likely to create an environment that the fungus can replicate in.
You have diabetes: the high glucose levels encourage fungus to breed.
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You have a tight foreskin: the area tends to get hot and sweaty, and is not easily accessible to clean.
You are on long-term antibiotic: they get rid of good bacteria as well as bad bacteria).
Do you need to visit your GP?
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, or you are taking certain medications, such as antibiotics or those that affect the immune system such as HIV medication, cancer drugs or immunosuppressants, you should visit the GP, as you may need your treatment regime altered.
You should also see your GP if you have recently had unprotected sexual intercourse, as the symptoms of thrush are similar in nature to some STIs, for example chlamydia, and this will need to be ruled out.
Most cases of thrush, however, can be treated with over-the-counter medication. You should speak to your pharmacist and explain the symptoms, giving a background history of your health to help eliminate other conditions it may be. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend an effective treatment.
How to prevent thrush in the future
If you experience two or more episodes of thrush within a short space of time, you should see your pharmacist or doctor. There may be an underlying reason, such as uncontrolled blood sugar levels, which will warrant further investigation.
Otherwise, to help prevent thrush, try the following:
✔️ Clean your penis every day using water, and dry it afterwards.
✔️ Avoid wearing the same boxer shorts for more than one day. You should also change your pyjamas regularly, as you sweat when you sleep.
✔️ Avoid using soaps and shower gels that have a high perfume content. This can irritate the genital area. Opt for perfume-free products such as Sebamed pH 3.8 Intimate Wash.
✔️ Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear, to prevent a build-up of sweat and decrease the chance of the fungus replicating.
Can you get thrush by having sex?
Please note that, while thrush is not an STI, you can pass it to your partner when you have sex. If you develop thrush and you are sexually active, it’s important that both you and your partner get treated. Otherwise, you might keep catching it from one another.
If you are not sure if you do in fact have an STI, it’s important that you get tested. To find sexual health resources in your area, try one of the following: