Oral thrush is usually caused by fungus called Candida genus, which can be found in areas such as the skin, mouth, and gut. Many people have the bacteria on or in their body and never exhibit any signs of infection, but people with HIV who already have compromised immune systems can struggle to fight the infection.
About Oral Thrush
Medically known as oropharyngeal candidiasis, oral thrush results from an abundance of fungi in the mouth that causes white or yellow lesions to form. Although they usually appear on the tongue and inner cheeks, these lesions can also be found on the roof of the mouth, or the tonsils and gums. Oral yeast infections may occur if the fungi grows and/or spreads uncontrollably.
Other symptoms include sensitivity and bleeding when the lesions are scraped, a weak sense of taste, sore throat, redness, trouble swallowing, and cracked skin at the corners of the mouth.
Most cases of oral thrush are caused by the fungus Candida albicans, but other fungi in the same genus may cause thrush symptoms as well. It is a naturally occurring fungus that can be found in small amounts in the mouth, skin, and gut of a large portion of the population.
Anyone who exhibits symptoms of oral thrush as a healthy adult should see a doctor and be checked for underlying conditions because it does not usually affect people whose immune systems are functioning properly.
Oral thrush can spread very quickly in people with weak or developing immune systems, like infants, young children, older adults, people receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and people living with immune-compromising conditions, including HIV. Below, we have used HIV as an example to show how an immune system can be weakened, and a result, become susceptible to conditions like oral thrush.
HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that targets white blood cells and weakens the immune system over time. A short period of flu-like symptoms sometimes occurs after a person is infected. The virus can then enter into an asymptomatic stage that can last for up to 15 years before the infection progresses again.
How HIV Spreads
The majority of HIV cases are sexually transmitted, but the virus can also be spread through direct contact with the blood of an individual carrying it.
As HIV progresses, white blood cells called CD4 cells are attacked. Those cells are critical to a person’s immune system, and as they are lost, the immune system weakens significantly and becomes more vulnerable to illness and infection.
Oral Thrush and HIV
A weak immune system opens a window for an opportunistic infection like Candida, which is why so many people with HIV are affected by it. In fact, the vast majority of people living with HIV deal with oral thrush at least once in their lives.
The term “opportunistic infection” refers to a bacteria or fungus that does not affect most people it is found on, but that can cause an infection in people who are more susceptible. The fungus that causes oral thrush falls into this category, and HIV gives it a chance to grow into an infection because it cannot be fought off easily.
How Common is Oral Thrush in People with HIV?
An estimated 80% of people with HIV experience symptoms of oral thrush at some point. As their HIV progresses and more white blood cells are lost, the risk of getting oral thrush - or any other infection - increases.
Treatment and Prevention of Oral Thrush
If you have oral thrush, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medicine for a short time. Not much is known about treatment of oral thrush in people with HIV but keeping your mouth clean is a step in the right direction.
Preventing Oral Thrush with Good Oral Hygiene
Whether you are immunocompromised or not, it is recommended that maintaining proper oral health and cleanliness can help prevent thrush from becoming a problem. Good oral hygiene starts with what you use to brush your teeth, and LIVFRESH uses a patented dental gel formula designed to provide your teeth with a deep, long-lasting clean. Browse the LIVFRESH line of dental gels to find what works best for you.