If you use an inhaler, you’re often at higher risk for an infection called oral thrush. The infection is caused by a buildup of the fungus Candida in your mouth and throat.

Fortunately, oral thrush is typically an easily cured infection. There are also steps you can take to reduce your risk for thrush, even if you use an inhaler frequently. Read on to learn more.

Oral thrush is an infection that occurs in your mouth. When you have oral thrush, a fungus called Candida grows in your mouth. You might also see oral thrush referred to by its medical names, candidiasis or oropharyngeal candidiasis.

The infection causes white or yellow bumps to grow on the inside of your cheeks and on your tongue.

Thrush is generally mild and often goes away quickly. However, people with weakened immune systems might have more trouble fighting the infection. In rare cases, this can allow the thrush to spread to other parts of the body and lead to serious complications.

Thrush is most often found in young children but can affect people of any age.

Inhalers can be used to to deliver medications for treating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the corticosteroids in inhalers can increase your risk for thrush.

Corticosteroids work by reducing the swelling in your lungs and airways, making it easier for you to breathe.

When you use your inhaler, the steroid medication will reach your lungs, but a significant amount can end up on the surface of your mouth and throat. When this happens, those same steroids can also weaken your immune system in your mouth and throat.

The fungus that causes oral thrush is normally found in your mouth, throat, and digestive tract but doesn’t cause problems. When your immune system is weakened in this area, the fungus can grow and lead to oral thrush.

There are a few ways to help lower your risk for getting oral thrush from using your inhaler. You’ll need to talk with a medical professional about whether these suggestions may work for you. Let them know you’re concerned about thrush and that you’d like to take steps to prevent it.

Some ways that a medical professional can help you prevent oral thrush include:

  • taking the lowest dose of steroids that can still control your asthma or COPD
  • taking nonsteroid medications that can reduce how frequently you use your inhaler
  • adding a prescription spacer to your inhaler to help more medication reach your lungs

You can also take a few steps on your own to prevent thrush. Keep in mind that it’s still a good idea to let your medical provider know you’re concerned about thrush. They can adjust your medications or make other changes that aren’t safe for you to make on your own.

Some steps you can take at home include:

  • purchasing your own spacer at a medical supply store
  • rinsing the mouth of your inhaler after each use to clear it of any medication
  • rinsing your mouth out or brushing your teeth after you use your inhaler
  • maintaining overall good oral health

You might have noticed that spacers are mentioned twice. That’s because there are two ways you can get a spacer: either with a prescription from your doctor or on your own at a medical supply store.

Spacers may help prevent thrush because they assist in getting the medication straight to your lungs, leaving less in your throat.

The symptoms of thrush include:

  • white or yellow bumps that form in patches on the inner cheeks, tongue, or roof of your mouth, as well as your throat
  • dry or cotton-like feeling in your mouth
  • loss of ability to taste food
  • bad taste in your mouth
  • redness in your mouth
  • pain in your mouth
  • pain when you swallow food or liquids
  • redness and dry or cracking skin at the corners of your lips

Occasionally, you might have additional symptoms, such as bleeding in your mouth if the bumps break open. In some cases, thrush can also spread to your esophagus, causing a sore throat and additional difficulty swallowing.

You should see a medical professional if you experience symptoms of oral thrush after using your inhaler. You’ll generally be prescribed an antifungal medication.

You’ll need to apply the medication to the inside of your mouth for 1 or 2 weeks. It’s important to apply it exactly as your prescription instructs.

The exact medication you’ll be prescribed will depend on your specific case of thrush, your medical history, and any allergies you have. However, some commonly prescribed thrush medications include:

  • clotrimazole (Mycelex)
  • miconazole (Oravig)
  • nystatin
  • fluconazole (Diflucan)

Severe or persistent cases might require a second dose of medication or even an IV antifungal medication. In these cases, you might be prescribed one of these medications:

  • itraconazole
  • amphotericin B

Most cases of oral thrush will clear up in a couple of weeks. In general, a single dose of antifungal medication may be enough to cure the infection.

Most people won’t have complications from their oral thrush. However, people with weakened immune systems might need additional treatment if the infection has spread.

People with asthma or COPD can get a fungal infection called oral thrush from their inhalers. The infection occurs because the steroids in the inhaler weaken the immune system in the mouth and throat.

Oral thrush can cause discomfort and trouble eating. However, it usually can be treated quickly with antifungal medications.

Consult a medical professional if you notice signs of thrush. They can prescribe the right medication for you and help you take steps to prevent it in the future.