Alright, real talk: Urinary tract infections are annoying, painful, and downright rude.
But even if you've never had a UTI, you've got to read this—50 percent of all women get at least one UTI in their lifetime. If it hasn't happened to you yet, odds are good it will eventually. Guys aren't immune either. Twenty percent of all UTI diagnoses occur in men, so this ailment is an equal-opportunity offender.
And these infections are not only really uncomfortable—symptoms include severe pelvic pain, burning when going to the bathroom, frequent and sudden urges to pee, nausea, vomiting, and chills—but they can get dangerous. Untreated, infection can spread to the kidneys and bladder and lead to kidney damage, sepsis, and even more UTIs.
Plus, these pesky are the second leading cause of lost workdays for women. Most people know the easiest way to combat an infection is to, erhm, wipe properly (front to back, you guys), urinate after sex, and of course maintain general good hygiene. But there are some surprising everyday habits that can cause a UTI to spring up. Save your sick days for an extra-long vacation this year and fight back against annoying infections by being wary of these dangerous daily rituals.
The chicken or the egg?
While most urinary tract infections were thought to have stemmed from bacteria from within the patient—nearly 85 percent are caused by E. coli bacteria—a recent study from the CDC found the same strain of E. coli attributed to chicken treated with antibiotics in women who suffered from infections. That means the offending chicken and eggs that were contaminated directly caused UTI transmission.
Researchers believe that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to blame, so your best bet to avoid contracting this strain of E. coli is to avoid chicken and eggs that contain antibiotics and to always make sure to bring your food to the recommended tempurature when cooking it.
Let the air down there
We're obsessed with making sure we smell good...everywhere. Scented tampons, pads, and washes promise to help you stay fresh throughout the day, but these products could be causing your UTI woes. Scented bath products can cause irritation in the urinary tract, leading to infection.
Even worse, pads and pantyliners don't allow your sensitive bits to breathe, because their job to is absorb moisture. This creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, and subsequent infection. Ditch the liner and opt for cotton underwear—or better yet, go commando!
Blame your cold, flu, and allergy medicine
The Harvard Health Letter reported that antihistamines could be a major trigger for urinary tract infections—according to the journal, over the counter allergy medications could cause the bladder to retain urine, which can cause infections. Instead of reaching for the Claritin when eyes get red and noses start running, try a more natural route to fighting allergies—it's less expensive and doesn't put your body at risk for getting more sick!
What you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Constantly feel like you're fighting off a UTI? If you develop a recurring infection, your diet may be to blame. Before you roll your eyes—yes, we've heard a million times before that we need to eat healthier anyway—a UTI-fighting regimen doesn't necessarily mean a strict elimination diet. Actually, you might just need to add things into your daily meals.
"Early on in an infection, cells produce a protein called siderocalin that blocks bacterial growth, including the growth of E. coli that often causes UTIs," Dr. Jeffrey P. Henderson, MD, PhD, told TIME. Turns out that certain foods can make those proteins more potent. The key is producing more alkaline urine. What does that even mean? Calcium supplements can up the pH of your urine and make it more alkaline, but so can indulging in foods like coffee, tea, colorful berries, red wine, and dark chocolate.
Go easy on the caffeinated drinks, though—too much coffee or tea can dehydrate you and aggravate the urinary tract. If you've already got an infection, avoid caffeine and alcohol as they'll have the same effect. Try to integrate these foods into your diet to help reduce the risk of developing a UTI.
Ok, you made it to the end! Give yourself a pat on the back—we know it can be all kinds of awkward, but dealing with a UTI is no fun. But being proactive can make a serious difference in how often you contract these uncomfortable infections... And it's a great excuse to increase your coffee and chocolate consumption!
Illustration by Karley Koenig