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Help with bladder control
Let’s face it. Few people want to talk about bladder control issues, but they’re a fact of life for 25 million Americans.
Whether it's due to pregnancy or childbirth (if you’re a woman) or prostate cancer treatment (if you’re a man), the problem is something you’re probably working with your doctor to treat.
But there are also everyday products that can help. "When choosing, it is important to think about the nature of the problem, its severity, and the time of day or night that it occurs," says Nancy Muller, PhD, executive director of the National Association for Continence in Charleston, S.C.
With these in mind, here are 13 products to consider.
Unfortunately, skin irritation can be a side effect of having incontinence problems.
Using special moisturizers on the perineal area (the area between the genitals and anus) can help protect against rashes and dry skin.
Applying a barrier cream can also help protect the skin from irritation. This is particularly important for people who have severe incontinence or for those who have problems staying dry at night, says Muller.
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Muller remembers a time when you could literally "hear people walking across the room if they were wearing a disposable product."
No more. You can buy disposable undergarments that are comfortable and quiet, if not all that sexy. They have cotton-like outer materials and more efficient inner layers, which can absorb more than 20 times their weight in liquid.
Muller recommends store brands from Walgreens and other drugstores.
"The effectiveness of a product is not a function of the square inches of material," adds Muller. Get a gender-specific size and fit to avoid bunching and leakage, as well as wasting your money on products that don’t work for you.
Be warned. These aren’t much cuter than the disposable variety. But they come in a variety of colors and generally look like regular underwear. However, they can absorb several ounces of fluid and could be helpful for women with mild to moderate incontinence.
Just wear them and then throw them in the wash like normal underwear.
Compression pouch (for men)
These are basically padded pouches that put a little pressure on the penis to help prevent urine loss (by gently squeezing the urethra), while absorbing small amounts of urine if there is leakage. The compression pouch can safely be worn for three to four hours, giving you enough time to go to the gym or do some other activity that may trigger bladder problems.
These are disposable products that should not be used at night, according to the manufacturers.
Photo: Vaga Care
Kegel exercises help strengthen the muscles that control the bladder, often reducing incontinence.
However, some women struggle to pinpoint the appropriate muscles to squeeze. There are products that can help, but some are better than others.
"I definitely recommend doing Kegels," says Muller. "Unfortunately a lot of the exercisers are a little gimmicky."
Waterproof sheets are a no-brainer if you’ve ever had a problem with incontinence, particularly at night.
Consider putting a waterproof mattress pad over the bottom sheet to wick moisture away from your skin, lowering the chances that you’ll wake up with a rash or infection.
Other similarly designed chair and mattress pads are also available.
If you have bladder control issues, it’s tempting to wash the area with chemicals and products that can be harsh on the skin. This is a common mistake, says Muller.
Instead, look for a specialized moisturizing cleanser that is formulated to remove urine or stool without the need for scrubbing.
"I can’t say enough about the importance of nonirritating cleansers," says Muller.
Books on incontinence
Sometimes the most useful health product you could ever buy is a book. For one, books help eliminate that "I’m the only one on the planet with this problem" feeling. Plus, you might pick up a tip or two for living better with a health problem.
The National Association for Continence also publishes a comprehensive directory of products and services for incontinence.
One of the easiest solutions to the incontinence problem is to wear disposable pads. "Absorbents are often the first place to start," Muller says.
Muller suggests looking for products with special layers that can wick urine away from your skin.
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Smelling bad "is probably the single biggest fear people have," says Muller. "Urine is pretty prominent and hard to mask."
Rather than simply disguising the odor with a perfume or deodorant, she suggests using a nonirritating product to eliminate it.
You can spray these products on underwear, linens, clothing, or in bathrooms. There are several choices formulated for people with incontinence, so try a few to find one that works for you.
Wipes, and bags to put them in
Handy, disposable wipes can be particularly useful if you have an accident. These rinse-free washcloths dissolve irritants without bothering your skin.
As if suffering through an incontinence episode isn’t stressful enough, you still need to deal with your soiled pads, washcloths, and any other waste products you have on hand.
Consider buying opaque, odor-controlling disposable bags, so you can more easily pitch the stuff in the nearest garbage can.
Pad and underwear combo
To provide more protection than a pad alone—but without giving the sense that you’re wearing a diaper—some companies offer a combination of a disposable pad or liner and a washable, reusable brief.
This type of underwear, for example, offers a sewn-in pouch that securely conceals a disposable liner.
External collection system (for men)
Incontinence is more common in women than in men because of anatomical and hormonal reasons, but men who do have incontinence may have a bigger problem. They actually lose up to three times as much urine as a woman during a severe incontinence episode, Muller says.
One product that may help is an external collection system, which includes a collection bag attached to a sheath that goes over the penis. And everything fits inside a washable pair of cotton briefs.
"It’s very comfortable, discreet, and economical," says Muller.