You laugh and then leak. Or you sneeze and then dribble. Maybe you just lose it all.
“Urinary incontinence" describes the broad range of bladder control problems that affect more than 12 million people. If you’re one of them, you should see a doctor. Treatments can improve or stop the problem. But over-the-counter “hygiene products" can help you manage it. There’s a lot to consider when choosing products.
Liners, pads, disposable underwear, and reusable underwear absorb moisture. Products made for incontinence control “catch" the leaks and pull moisture away from your skin. That allows you to go longer between changes.
All incontinence protection products have a “saturation" point — they can hold only so much liquid — but the products don’t absorb at the same rate. Sometimes the difference can be dramatic. There’s no standard for terms such as “plus" or “ultra plus," so try different brands to find what works best for you.
Many disposable pads, liners, and undergarments have a waterproof backing. This helps prevent overflow from reaching your clothes. The newest waterproof system uses a “breathable" plastic film that helps reduce skin irritation associated with some waterproof linings.
Choosing Your Product Style
Pads and liners come in a variety of shapes and sizes. That makes it easier to find the right fit for your body shape and lifestyle.
Liners are generally wider and longer than pads and offer better “front-to-back" protection. Pads are usually curved. Many contain elastic on the sides to cradle your body and help keep leaks from rolling over the edge.
There’s also a range of disposable undergarments with built-in protection — not just in the crotch, but throughout the entire garment. Styles range from pull-ons with elasticized legs and waists resembling a traditional cloth panty to underwear that slips on with Velcro or adhesive tabs for a customized fit. You can also find open-sided “thong style" panties held together by straps in the front and back that rest on top of the hip bone.
Guards are pads designed around a man’s anatomy and worn inside regular underwear. They’re held in place by adhesive tabs pressed against fabric. With a variation known as a “drip collector," the penis is placed inside a protective, absorbent sack that absorbs urine flow.
Disposable protection is the most costly, but it can be the most sanitary and the easiest to use, especially when you’re not at home. When at home, many people use washable and reusable pads, liners, and garments. They’re less expensive, and the garments feel more like typical underwear.
Whatever you wear, you’ll need to maintain a schedule for changing it based on your urinary habits. You don’t have to change products as soon as you leak. But you should change them if your skin feels wet.
Urinary Incontinence and Odor Control
Most incontinence pads, liners, and disposable underwear feature some type of odor control. Often, the materials are treated with a natural odor-absorbing compound such as baking soda. Sometimes, though, manufacturers add fragrance to the pad, liner, or garment. Some people find this pleasant, but for others it causes skin irritation. If you have sensitive skin, odor control compounds may cause you problems. If so, look for products that are fragrance-free and contain no chemicals for odor control.
If you accidentally leak urine onto clothing or furniture, there are several products — sprays and special detergents — that remove urine stains and odors. Most are sold in pharmacies. Some can be found in mail order health catalogs or online.
Barrier Devices for Urinary Incontinence
Some devices control the flow of urine.
Women can choose devices that go inside the vagina, like tampons or vaginal sponges. They provide temporary control by putting pressure on the tissues of the bladder. This helps keep urine from escaping and is particularly good for stress incontinence, where exercise, laughing, and sneezing causes urine to leak.
For 24-hour protection, many women find a pessary helpful. This is a plastic device that’s inserted into the vagina. It increases pressure on the urethra muscles and adds support to the pelvic region. These devices are fitted to your pelvis size, so you’ll need to visit your doctor. You can remove them for cleaning. They should be replaced each year — and that means another trip to the doctor. Ask your doctor if a pessary is a good option for you. In some cases they can make urinary incontinence worse.
A vaginal guard is another option. They’re disposable devices that come in three sizes. The guard is inserted into the vagina using an applicator. It prevents leaks by adding support to the pelvic structures and muscles.
For men, the primary device is a penile compression clamp. Because there are few studies on how well they work, their safety, or comfort, and because of the potential for circulation problems, many doctors advise that they be used with extreme caution.
Lifestyle Products for Urinary Incontinence
In addition to products that absorb urine, there are devices that control the flow.
For men, the primary device is a penile compression clamp. Because there are few studies focused on their efficacy, safety, or comfort, and because of the potential for causing circulation problems, many doctors advise that they be used with extreme caution.
Women have the option of intravaginal support devices — items such as tampons or vaginal sponges. They can provide temporary continence control by applying pressure on the support tissues of the bladder. This helps keep urine from escaping and is particularly good for stress incontinence, where physical exertion brings on urine loss.
For 24-hour protection, many women find a support pessary helpful. This is a plastic ring-type device that’s inserted into the vagina. It also increases pressure on the urethra muscles and adds support to the pelvic region. Because these devices must be fitted to your pelvis size, they require a doctor’s visit. They, can, however, be removed by you for cleaning, but should be replaced with a new one each year — and that necessitates another trip to the doctor. Be aware that — in some cases — a pessary can worsen urinary incontinence.
More recently, vaginal guards have become available. Vaginal guards — disposable polyurethane devices — come in three sizes. The guard is inserted into the vagina using an applicator and adds support to the pelvic structures and urethra muscles.
Skin Care Treatments
No matter how well your incontinence products work, when urine continually touches your skin, you can get rashes and even infections.
Most experts agree that changing pads or underwear whenever you feel wet can help. So can rinsing the genital area with warm water and drying it thoroughly each time you change pads.
Some people find skin care products featuring a moisture barrier helpful in reducing skin irritation. Any products for diaper rash can help.
Referenced on 30/8/2021
- Debra K. Newman, RNC, MSN, Penn Center for Incontinence and Pelvic Health, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center; director, SeekWellness web site.
- Michael H. Safir, MD, director, Southern California Center for Advanced Urology, West Hills, CA; author, “Overcoming Urinary Incontinence."
- National Institute on Aging: “Urinary Incontinence."
- UrologyHealth.org: “Managing Bladder Dysfunction With Products & Devices."
- National Association for Continence.