thrush mouth fungal infection | Cleveland Clinic
A thrush infection of the mouth.

What is thrush?

Thrush is a fungal (yeast) infection that can grow in your mouth, throat and other parts of your body. In your mouth thrush appears as a growth that can look like cottage cheese – white, raised lesions on your tongue and cheeks. The condition can quickly become irritated and cause mouth pain and redness.

Thrush is caused by the overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida. Mouth and throat thrush is called oropharyngeal candidiasis.

A thrush infection is annoying but it’s generally a minor problem for healthy people and will clear up in a few weeks with antifungal treatment.

Who can get thrush and is it contagious (pass from person to person)?

While thrush can affect anyone, babies under 1 month old, toddlers, older adults and people with weakened immune systems (where symptoms can be harder to control) are at more risk. Thrush in the esophagus (swallowing tube) is one of the more common infections in people with HIV/AIDS.

Thrush can be contagious to those at risk (like people with weakened immune systems or are taking certain medications). In healthy people, it’s unusual for it to be passed on through kissing or other close contacts. In most cases, thrush isn’t considered particularly contagious but it can be transmitted.

If you’re worried about getting thrush from another person who has it, avoid coming into contact with their saliva (spit). It’s smart to wash your hands as often as possible if you’re near someone who has thrush.

Why is thrush a concern during breastfeeding?

Because infants are more at risk, getting or giving thrush during breastfeeding is a worry with many moms. It’s a common breastfeeding problem, and in some cases treatment can be tricky.

Babies with thrush can pass the infection to their mothers. When the infection in a baby’s mouth leads to sore throat and pain, they cry and are irritable during feeding. Mothers (especially if they’re taking antibiotics) may also develop thrush infections around the breasts and nipples and transmit it to their babies.

When both mom and baby develop thrush they should be treated for the condition at the same time to prevent an ongoing exchange of the infection.

What causes thrush?

Most people have small amounts of the Candida fungus in the mouth, digestive tract and skin. They are normally kept in check by other bacteria and microorganisms in the body. When illnesses, stress, or medications disturb this balance, the fungus grows out of control and causes thrush.

Medications that can make yeast flourish and cause infection include:

Candida infection is more likely to develop with:

  • Uncontrolled diabetes.
  • HIV infection.
  • Cancer.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Pregnancy (caused by the hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy).
  • Smoking.
  • Wearing dentures that don’t fit well.

What are the symptoms of thrush?

Thrush usually develops suddenly. A common sign is the presence of those creamy white, slightly raised lesions in your mouth — usually on your tongue or inner cheeks. They can also be seen on the roof of your mouth, gums, tonsils or back of your throat. Other symptoms may be:

  • Redness and soreness inside and at the corners of your mouth.
  • Loss of ability to taste.
  • Cottony feeling in your mouth.

The lesions can hurt and may bleed a little when you scrape them or brush your teeth. In severe cases, the lesions can spread into your esophagus and cause:

  • Pain or difficulty swallowing.
  • A feeling that food gets stuck in the throat or mid-chest area.
  • Fever, if the infection spreads beyond the esophagus.

Thrush can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver and skin. This happens more often in people with cancer, HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system.

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