Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common ailments for children and adults alike, but many myths about the condition persist.
Today, a nurse practitioner at CHOC Urology Center helps discern between fact and fiction when it comes to UTIs.
Fiction: Wearing wet bathing suits or too tight clothes causes UTIs
The list of supposed causes of UTIs goes on and on, but Blake Selby, DNP, says there is only one source: Bacteria.
“The biggest thing I can emphasize is that the only thing that causes UTIs is bacteria getting into the bladder,” she says.
Though bacteria are present in bodies all the time, people can do things that increase the chance that bacteria will migrate into the bladder and cause an infection, Selby says.
Practicing good hygiene is a primary way to help kids stave off UTIs, Selby says. After using the restroom, girls should wipe from front to back, ensuring that bacteria from the rectum does not come closer to the urethra. Boys who are uncircumcised should pull their foreskin back and wash carefully.
Also, though it cannot cause an infection, wearing wet bathing suits or clothes that are too tight can increase the spread of bacteria.
“They may give you a higher propensity for a UTI,” Selby says. “A wet bathing suit creates a warm and moist environment, which can increase skin irritation and breakdown. Although no current research confirms this, you may have a higher chance for a UTI, especially if the child has held her urine for a while or is constipated.”
Fact: Delaying urination can cause a UTI.
Simply put, urination flushes bacteria out of the bladder, Selby says.
The bladder is lined in a glycosaminoglycan – or GAG – layer, which keeps bacteria from latching to the bladder’s walls. However, if the bladder holds urine too long, the bacteria continues to multiply reaching a critical mass that overcomes the bladder defense mechanism, Selby explains.
Selby compares the scenario to washing dishes. If someone continues to pile dirty plates and bowls into the sink but doesn’t change the water, a mess of food scraps remains. The water must be continually flushed out – just as the bladder – to keep messes, or bacteria, at bay.
Fact: More girls than boys get UTIs.
Anatomy plays a significant role, Selby says. Because girls’ urethras and rectums are closer in proximity than in boys, the likelihood that bacteria can move into the urethra increases.
Another factor, Selby says, is that girls anecdotally tend to delay urination longer than boys. Again, frequent urination helps flush bacteria out of the bladder.
Fact: Cranberry juice can help prevent a UTI – but water is the best option.
Cranberry juice contains a simple sugar called D-Mannose, which some studies have shown binds to the bacterium E.coli, Selby says.
By doing so, D-Mannose can keep E.coli from sticking to the bladder’s wall, multiplying and causing a UTI. However, scientific evidence is inconclusive that the amount of D-Mannose obtained by oral consumption is sufficient to make a difference in preventing a UTI.
If parents opt to try cranberry juice, Selby cautions to should look for real cranberry juice with no sugar added – not juices labeled as “cranberry cocktail.” These beverages are diluted and packed with sugar.
Also, water works well to prevent UTIs, along with encouraging frequent voiding. To ensure a child is properly hydrated, a good rule of thumb is to drink 8 ounces of water for every year of age, Selby says. So, a 4-year-old should drink 32 ounces of water daily.
All people 8 years old and older should drink eight cups of water daily.
An uncircumcised baby has a higher UTI risk: Fact, but just barely.
A baby who is not circumcised increases his risk of developing a UTI tenfold, but only in his first year of life, Selby says.
Get more expert health advice delivered to your inbox monthly by subscribing to the KidsHealth newsletter here.
Learn more about CHOC’s Urology Programs and Services
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the urology specialty.