Urinary Tract Infections in Children - Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Urinary tract infections are a common infection in children, and often bring symptoms of discomfort associated with using the toilet.

Urinary Tract Infections in Children - Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Urinary tract infections are a common infection in children, and often bring symptoms of discomfort associated with using the toilet.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common in children, especially in those who wear diapers or nappies.

In fact, around 8% of girls and 2% of boys in Australia are expected to have experienced at least one UTI by the time they reach seven years of age [1]. They’re also more likely to occur in children who experience issues including urinary incontinence [2].

Being able to assess whether your child has a UTI can be difficult, especially if your child can't communicate due to age or other factors, such as being nonverbal.

But there can be ways to identify if your child has a UTI without them having to verbally express it. So read on to find out how to tell if your child has a UTI, and what you should do if you suspect your child has one.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection is just as it sounds an infection of the urinary tract, which is caused by bacteria getting into the urethra [1,2].

FYI - the urinary tract is the body’s drainage system for urine, which includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters (tubes that connect your kidneys to the bladder to transport urine) and the urethra. The urethra is the tube that connects from the bladder that allows urine to escape the body.

There are many different ways the bacteria can enter a child’s urethra and urinary tract. The most common way is that they have spread bacteria from their bottom to their genital region when wiping after a bowel motion, or from an extended period of time in a soiled nappy [3].

While UTIs can cause discomfort through a range of symptoms, they are able to be quite easily diagnosed and treated by your child's GP, usually with a short course of antibiotics. Despite this, they shouldn’t go ignored - if left untreated, the infection can spread and cause serious complications such as a kidney infection [1, 3].

How do I know if my child has a urinary tract infection?

The only concrete way to know if your child has a UTI is via diagnosis from their GP following a urine test. If you suspect that your child has one, it’s best to take them to the doctor straight away to avoid the condition worsening or spreading [1].

If your child is showing or reporting the following symptoms, it may be an indication of a UTI and that you should take your child to see their GP:

- Pain, stinging or burning when urinating
- A frequent urge or need to use the toilet
- Only passing small amounts of urine at once, but more frequently than usual
- Wetting accidents
- Cloudy, pink, red or brown urine, or noticing blood in the urine

There are also some less obvious signs to be aware of that you may mistake for signs of general illness especially in younger children, which include:

- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Fever
- Vomiting
- Tiredness and general lack of energy

The symptoms can be difficult to assess in younger children or those otherwise unable to communicate to you that they have one, so it’s best to take your child to see the GP as soon as possible if they are showing any of these symptoms.

What is the treatment for a child with a UTI?

The main way to treat a UTI is with antibiotics, usually in the form of a tablet or syrup.

In younger children or those with more severe infections, they may even be admitted to hospital to have antibiotics administered intravenously using a drip [1,3,4].

Once the course of antibiotics has been started, the symptoms of your child's UTI should clear up within 48 hours [4]. As with any course of antibiotics, always follow the instructions for use and continue to give it to your child until the full course has been taken - even if they’re feeling better [3]!

Can a UTI lead to urinary incontinence in children?

Urinary incontinence is a common symptom of UTIs [5,6]. This is because along with the strong, and sometimes sudden, urge to urinate brought on by a UTI, a child may then experience accidents in the form of daytime wetting or bedwetting [7, 8].

This is especially true for young girls, with a 2018 Brasil study of 326 children aged between 2-16 finding a higher rate of daytime incontinence in girls aged 7 or younger [6].

Similarly, a UTI can sometimes be a consequence of other medical issues that can cause urinary incontinence, including bladder problems or constipation.

How to help prevent and manage a UTI in children:

Up to 30% of children under 6 years old experience recurrence of a UTI [1], so don’t be shocked if your child ends up having more than one in their lifetime.

Thankfully, there are things you can do at home to help prevent recurrence of a UTI in your child and to manage the uncomfortable symptoms of a UTI [2,7]:

  • Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day
    Making sure your child stays well hydrated by consuming an appropriate amount of water per day [10] will ensure they’re regularly emptying their bladder and reducing the ability for harmful bacteria to settle and grow in the urinary tract [11].

  • Encourage your child to go to the bathroom regularly
    Regularly going to the toilet ensures bacteria in the urine is emptied from the body, and it’s important they take their time when urinating to make sure they completely empty their bladder [12]. It’s also important to discourage any “holding on” behaviour, and to use the toilet when they get the urge to go [12]. It may also be helpful to help prompt or remind the child to urinate, for example before/after meals, upon waking up and before bed [2].

  • Make sure your child practises hygienic bathroom habits
    Make sure to inform your child (especially girls) to wipe from front to back to reduce the risk of spreading bacteria from their bottom to their genital region, and to shower daily. This is especially important for girls due to the shorter urethra and the proximity of the urethral opening to the rectum [12].

  • Avoid irritants such as perfumed soaps
    Certain products, like perfumed soap or even scented bubble baths, can contain chemicals or ingredients that irritate the urinary tract. When washing the genital area, it’s best to use a gentle, unscented soap or just warm water [13].

  • Ensure you change your child’s nappy or pull-up pants regularly
    Changing your child’s nappy or pull-up pants as soon as they’ve been soiled minimises the contact of the skin and urethra with any bacteria [12], therefore preventing the ability for them to spread into the urethra or urinary tract.

  • Invest in quality incontinence products for any urinary incontinence
    If you have a child aged between four and 15 who experiences incontinence using our Magics Youth Pants will help to boost their confidence by protecting them from any potential accidents (day or night) and provide defence against any leaks.

    They fit children from age four all the way to 15 years old, and feel just like regular underwear for discreet wear under clothing. The patented Magical Tube Technology makes sure the pants quickly absorb and contain any liquid, with the flash-dry top sheet ensuring your child stays dry between changes.

    They’re dermatologically tested and latex free, too, so you can be sure they’re gentle on skin - even sensitive skin!

If your child experiences frequent UTIs it is important to see their doctor for an assessment that might reveal any extra contributing or underlying factors [1, 11,12].

UTIs are extremely common in children, but by taking them to see their doctor as soon as any symptoms are identified and following the above prevention tips, the uncomfortable symptoms can be managed and reduce the risk of recurrence.

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