Thrush is a type of yeast infection, caused by Candida albicans, that can develop in your mouth and throat, on your skin, or specifically on your genitals. Yeast infections on the genitals are more common in women, but they also happen to men.
Male yeast infections can target the head of the penis. Genital yeast infections are more common in uncircumcised men. That’s because conditions under the foreskin encourage colonization by the fungus. Yeast infections on the skin can typically be cured by using an over-the-counter antifungal cream.
Symptoms of thrush
Male yeast infection leads to balanitis, which is inflammation of the tip (glans) of the penis. The typical symptoms of male yeast infection include the following:
- redness, itching, and burning on the head of the penis, and under the foreskin
- white discharge from the site of the infection resembling cottage cheese
- unpleasant smell
- difficulty pulling back the foreskin
- pain and irritation when you have sex
- pain when you urinate
Causes of thrush
Most cases of male yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. Yeast is a type of fungus.
Candida albicans is a natural resident of your body. In a warm, moist setting, the opportunistic fungus can grow faster than your body’s immune defenses can keep it in check. That can lead to overgrowth of yeast.
Places that yeast infections commonly take root include:
- the throat and esophagus, commonly referred to as oral thrush
- folds in the skin, in the armpits, or between the fingers
- underneath the foreskin and on the head of the penis
Factors that increase the chance of a yeast infection include:
- poor hygiene
- obesity, as folds in the skin create a good environment for thrush to take hold
- diabetes mellitus, because the high levels of blood sugar and excessive sweating associated with it can help yeast infections get established
- weakened immune system, result from severe infections such as HIV infection, cancer treatments, or taking immune-suppressing drugs, for example
- prolonged use of antibiotics
Is thrush a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Thrush isn’t considered an STI, but men can sometimes contract thrush from having intercourse with a woman who has a yeast infection. In this case, both partners will need treatment to prevent each other from continuing to have problems with genital thrush.
Diagnosing the condition
If you suspect thrush, see a doctor. Your doctor will be able to rule out the possibility of an STI and confirm that the problem is a yeast infection. The infection can usually be diagnosed based on the symptoms and the appearance of the infection site, as well as with a potassium hydroxide prep to look at the yeast under the microscope. If your doctor suspects an STI in your genital region, you may also need lab tests.
Treatment for thrush
If you’ve had a yeast infection before and you recognize the symptoms, you can treat it yourself with over-the-counter topical antifungal cream. Application of the antifungal cream is usually twice a day.
A corticosteroid cream in addition to antifungal cream may help with itchiness and swelling, but you may want to ask your doctor about using one before doing so, as the corticosteroid could allow for the yeast infection to linger and even worsen.
The usual first choice option to treat male yeast infection not involving the penis is a topical cream containing clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Desenex) or miconazole (Baza). These are the same medications used to treat athlete’s foot and female yeast infections and are available over the counter.
If you have any type of adverse reaction to these, your doctor may prescribe to you a nystatin cream.
Men with severe yeast infections or those involving the penis may need to take an antibiotic in pill form, like fluconazole (Diflucan), which is available by prescription from your doctor.
Recovering from this condition
Using an antifungal cream should get the infection under control within a couple weeks. Avoid sex to keep from irritating the area or spreading the infection to a partner. If you do have sex, use a condom.
After the infection clears up, take these steps to prevent another yeast infection:
- Make sure to pull back the foreskin and thoroughly wash the head of your penis every day.
- Don’t use deodorants, talcum powder, scented soaps, or body wash on your penis and foreskin, since these can cause irritation.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton undergarments so you don’t create a warm, moist environment for yeast to thrive. Avoid tight-fitting spandex or nylon shorts, and tight jeans.