Oral thrush in babies: Causes, symptoms and treatments

Thrush is a common infection in the mouth of infants. It is caused by a yeast like fungus, Candida albicans. It can be irritating but it is treatable.

It is normal to have yeast organisms on various parts of the body. Normally, they cause no symptoms. However, if there is more than usual, or of the immune system cannot cope with the levels, symptoms may occur.

Yeast, or Candida, can also appear in diaper rashes and rashes in other moist places, such as under the chin. It can affect the nipples of breast-feeding mothers. It can be very irritating but it is treatable.

Newborns can have symptoms of Candida at birth or soon after. Thrush often appears in the mouth in the first few weeks or months of life. If the nipples of a breast-feeding mother are affected, the infection may be passed on to the infant. It is not clear why some infants develop symtoms, while others do not.

Oral thrust is the most common oral fungal infection in infants and children. It is not usually serious, but it can be uncomfortable and it may cause difficulties with feeding. Treatment is available.

Causes

A small amount of the Candida fungus lives in the mouth most of the time. It is usually kept in check by the immune system and other types of germs that also normally live in the mouth.

However, when the immune system is weaker, the fungus can grow, leading to sores and lesions in the mouth and on the tongue.

Oral thrush may occur in babies because their immune systems have not yet matured. They are less able to resist infection.

An oral thrush infection can happen after treatment with antibiotics, because antibiotics reduce the levels of healthy bacteria in the mouth. This allows fungus to proliferate.

Symptoms

Symptoms can appear suddenly.

They may include:

  • white patches on the roof of the mouth, inside the cheeks, and on the tongue
  • under the white lesions, there may be red tissue that bleeds easily
  • there may be redness around the patches
  • the patches may be painful
  • the corners of the mouth may crack
  • patches of white that look like milk, but they cannot be wiped away

Without treatment, the lesions can slowly increase in number and size. Even with treatment, they can be hard to get rid of.

Many infants are not bothered by thrush, but they may be irritable, especially when feeding, if the mouth is sore.

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Diagnosis

A doctor will examine the infant, looking for telltale signs of thrush. Sometimes, they may take a swab or sample of infected tissue and look at it under a microscope. If there is evidence of Candida infection, the sample may be cultured to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

If the physician diagnoses Candida, they will prescribe a suitable treatment.

Oral thrush in infants often disappears within 2 weeks, and parents or caregivers may be advised to monitor the infection, without using medication.

Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe drops or a gel that must be spread around the inside of the mouth, not just put on the tongue.

If the infant is breastfeeding, the mother’s nipples may need to be treated at the same time, to prevent the infection passing back and forth.

Since oral thrush may affect feedings, the pediatrician should be notified if symptoms persist.

Natural remedies

Depending on the age of the infant, a doctor may suggest adding lactobacilli to the diet, in the form of yogurt. The lactobacilli are thought to provide “good” bacteria that may help get rid of the fungus. Supplements suitable for infants are available to purchase online.

Other remedies, such as grapefruit seed extract, coconut oil, gentian violet, tea tree oil, and baking soda have been suggested for treating oral thrush in infants.

However, grapefruit seed extract, for example, has been found to contain additional substances that may not be safe, even in adults. It has also not been proven effective for any condition.

Natural remedies still contain chemicals. It is important to discuss any type of remedy with a doctor before giving it to an infant.

Prevention

If a woman develops a vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy, she should consult a doctor. If it does not go away, it may be passed to the newborn during delivery. Symptoms include vaginal itching and a cheesy white discharge.

Women who have nipple discharge or pain during breastfeeding should also notify their health provider, so they can be examined for a yeast infection in the nipples. This can also be transmitted to the mouth of a nursing infant.

While breastfeeding, use breastpads that do not have a plastic barrier, as this can encourage the growth of Candida.

Ensure that bottle nipples and pacifiers, if used, are sterile. Some studies have found that Candida is prevalent on pacifiers, especially latex pacifiers. However, they did not find a link between pacifier use and candida infection.

Source: Oral thrush in babies: Causes, symptoms and treatments

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