Another trip to the pediatrician? Another diagnosis of a urinary tract infection (UTI)? It seems like every time you turn around, your child has a UTI. If they keep getting recurrent UTIs, it can be frustrating and scary as a parent.
UTIs happen when bacteria from a child’s skin or stool get into the urinary tract and multiply. UTIs are also very common. About 8% of girls and 2% of boys will develop a UTI by the time they are 10 years old.
“It happens more commonly in girls than boys because the urethra in girls is much shorter,” said Brenda Kronborg, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children's - Banner Health Clinic. “Thus, the bacteria have a shorter distance to go and start the infection.”
While UTIs are common among babies and children, recurrent UTIs can have serious complications such as scarring on the kidneys. It’s important to know how to spot the warning signs and get help for your child when they need it.
Dr. Kronborg helps break down the signs and symptoms, treatment options and the ways you can help prevent future UTIs.
What are the signs and symptoms of UTIs?
Every child can present UTI symptoms differently and symptoms may vary by age, but typically they will include:
- urinary frequency or an increased urge to pee (although only a small amount of urine may pass)
- bad odor to urine
- pain in the lower abdomen
- back pain
- urinary accidents when they were previously completely potty trained
- blood in the urine
- pain with urination
“For infants, they may show nonspecific signs such as a fever, irritability or poor appetite, but other signs may also include a failure to gain weight or develop normally and a bad odor to their urine,” Dr. Kronborg added.
Why does my child keep getting a UTI?
Common causes of UTIs are constipation, wiping from back to front, holding in pee, taking bubble baths or staying in a wet bathing suit for extended periods.
However, recurrent UTIs could be a sign of a malformation or malfunction of the urinary tract, such as vesicoureteral reflux (VUR). VUR occurs when the flow of urine goes the wrong direction from the bladder to the kidneys and is common among infants and children.
Your child’s doctor can help rule out other conditions related to UTIs and discuss treatment options.
How are recurrent UTIs treated?
The primary treatment for UTIs is usually antibiotics, but for recurrent UTIs treatment can depend on the root cause for the reoccurrence. In some instances, it could be as simple as teaching your child proper bathroom practices. In other cases, your child’s doctor may prescribe continuous antibiotics for a period of time to reduce the reoccurrence.
Kids who have infections and fevers along with VUR might need surgery. But most kids don't have serious symptoms and outgrow the condition with no lasting problems.
“It is important to note that children should complete the full course of medications to prevent the infection from worsening or affecting the kidneys,” Dr. Kronborg said. “By completing the medication, you can increase the odds of killing the bacteria. Stopping early allows a small portion to remain which can strengthen, change and develop resistance.”
How can I help prevent recurrent UTIs?
You can help your child reduce their risk of developing another UTI. Dr. Kronborg shares these suggestions to help prevent infections down the road.
- Stay hydrated. The more your child drinks, the more they will need to go to the bathroom. Drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids helps flush the urinary system. Your bladder is the healthiest when it’s flushed out frequently.
- No bubble baths. Although your little one may love their bath bombs and bubble baths, these, along with harsh soaps can lead to skin irritations on and around their private parts.
- Wipe properly. Practice wiping front to back and not reusing tissue. Girls are particularly vulnerable to UTIs because their rectal area is located near the urethra, the opening where urine exits the body. Bacteria that is normal at the rectum can contaminate the sterile urethra if the area is not wiped correctly.
- Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitted clothing. Cotton underwear allows air circulation. Tight clothing, such as jeans, aren’t good for circulation and are a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Avoid constipation. Encourage kids to drink plenty of water and include fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. Fruits such as plums, papayas, and prunes are especially helpful, but try to avoid bananas and applesauce. You can also use polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX) as needed to treat any constipation.
- Change diapers frequently. Leaving a wet or dirty diaper on your little one gives the germs more of a chance to go up the urethra.
- Urinate often. Young children are known for holding their pee, especially if they are doing something fun and don’t want to take a break to go. Trying to hold their urine can encourage bacteria to grow in the bladder, leading to infection. Remind them to go before beginning activities or going somewhere where bathrooms may not be accessible.
If you are concerned your child has a UTI, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment right away with their primary care physician. To find a Banner Health physician, visit bannerhealth.com.
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