Thrush in men is a common problem, although it occurs less often in men than it does in women. It is usually a mild infection caused by a yeast, and in most cases quickly clears up with treatment.
What is thrush?
Thrush is the common word for a yeast (fungal) infection from a germ called candida. This germ is often present harmlessly on our skin, but sometimes causes a problem when it multiplies. Candidal infections can affect many body systems, but most commonly cause problems in the genital area, in the mouth (oral thrush) or on the skin.
This leaflet deals with genital thrush only, specifically in men.
Can men get thrush?
Although it is much less common in men than in women, yes. Men can get thrush too. The medical term for thrush affecting the male genitals is candidal balanitis. Candidal = the name of the germ that causes it, candida. Balanitis = an inflammation of the tip of the penis. There are many causes of balanitis, but a candidal infection is the most common. See also the separate leaflet called Balanitis to read about other causes.
What causes thrush in men?
As with many thrush infections, the most common reason is that the germs that normally live harmlessly on or in our body multiply to a level where they cause symptoms. Thrush is a fungus, so like other fungi, it thrives in situations which are hot and damp. So in some cases, the thrush germ lives harmlessly on the skin around the penis, but if there are hot and sweaty conditions, it multiplies and causes symptoms. For example, if the weather is hot, or you wear tight nylon clothes that don't allow the skin to 'breathe', or if you don't dry yourself carefully after showering or exercising. Thrush is not officially classed as a 'sexually transmitted infection', but sometimes it can be passed on during sex or triggered by sex. Most women will have thrush at some point in their lives, but they rarely pass it on to their male partners. However, sometimes this does happen. Sometimes men or women can carry the thrush germ without having any symptoms, and then pass it on through having sex.
Some situations or conditions make thrush more likely - for example:
- Having diabetes.
- A course of antibiotics.
- Having an immune system which isn't working properly - due to conditions such as AIDS or medicines such as steroids or chemotherapy.
- A tight foreskin. This can make it difficult to get the area under the foreskin clean and dry which makes a build-up of the thrush germ more likely. Men who have had a circumcision are less prone to thrush.
- Skin conditions causing the skin in that area to be cracked or broken - eg, psoriasis
What are the symptoms of thrush in men?
As above, it is reasonably common to have the thrush germ (candida) but not have any symptoms at all. When thrush causes a problem, symptoms may include:
- A red rash at the tip of the penis.
- Soreness or itching of the penis.
- The tip of the penis may be swollen.
- A discharge from the end of the penis - usually a white or creamy colour, sometimes with a thick 'cottage cheese' type of texture, which may or may not be smelly.
- Pain or discomfort when passing urine or having sex.
- It may be difficult to pull the foreskin back (retract the foreskin).
What should I do if I think I have thrush?
If you have never had thrush before, it is best to visit a sexual health clinic or a doctor to check the diagnosis. There are many other causes for balanitis, so it is best to get it checked. In many cases no tests will be needed, and a health professional will be able to diagnose thrush just by looking at the affected area. Sometimes it may be necessary to take a swab. A swab is a bit like a long cotton bud - this is rubbed gently on the affected area then sent to the laboratory to be looked at under the microscope. Under the microscope the candidal germs can be seen and the diagnosis confirmed. This will also exclude other types of infection, such as gonorrhoea.
If you have recurring thrush (ie the infection keeps coming back) you may need urine or blood tests to check there is no reason for this. For example, you may be tested for diabetes or for problems with your immune system. Tests for sexually transmitted infections may also be done. Your partner should also be tested for thrush and sexually transmitted infections if the problem keeps coming back.
If you have had thrush before, and you recognise the symptoms, you can buy the treatment (see below) from a pharmacy. However, if it is coming back quickly or regularly, you should see a health professional to check for an underlying problem, and to check that your infection is definitely thrush.
What is the treatment for thrush in men?
Thrush in men is usually easily treated with a course of an antifungal cream. These can be bought at a pharmacy or a large supermarket, or prescribed by a doctor. There are several creams available, including:
Another option is an antifungal tablet, such as fluconazole. This is a one-off tablet which is swallowed.
Does my partner need treatment too?
No - not unless your partner has symptoms or signs of thrush.
Are there any complications from thrush in men?
Usually not - thrush is, in most people, a mild and easily treated condition. For people whose immune systems are not working properly, it may spread through the body and cause more severe problems.
How can I avoid getting thrush?
As mentioned above, fungi thrive in hot or wet conditions. So avoid anything which might make your genital area hot or wet for any length of time - for example:
- Shower after exercise and dry yourself thoroughly.
- Avoid synthetic underwear - cotton is best.
- Avoid tight underwear and trousers/shorts.
- Avoid tight Lycra® clothes.
- Keep your penis clean - wash regularly, and dry thoroughly. Perfumed soaps or shower gels may cause an irritation - it may help to wash with an emollient such as E45® or aqueous cream instead.
Also if you or your partner have thrush, it is best to avoid sex until you have been treated. Using a condom will also help prevent you passing it between you, but remember that condoms may be affected by the creams used to treat thrush.
Further reading and references
Hi,My girlfriend has had this skin infection for months now, doctors have given her antibiotics to clear it up which haven't helped at all, if anything it's getting worse, I'm not sure they even know...Seaspray99
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.