We wear sunscreen to protect our skin from burning in the summer. But what about our insides? Common bacteria can cause a different kind of burning when temperatures climb, and prevention doesn’t always come in a bottle.
Each year, more than 8 million people are treated for urinary tract infections, and research shows the numbers rise in the summer. One study has tracked a 15% increase in diagnosed UTI cases when temperatures climb to about 80 degrees, according to a report in LiveScience.com.
And while UTIs are more common among women (about 50% experience one at some time in their lives), they occur in men too, meaning everyone is at higher risk of developing an infection at the beach, park, or pool. Let’s explore why.
Summer is Peak Season for Bacteria
UTIs are the result of e. Coli or other bacteria growing in the urine, which means both upper and lower urinary tracts are at risk. This includes the kidneys, ureters (the ducts between the kidneys and bladder), bladder, and urethra. Most commonly, UTIs affect the bladder and urethra and cause burning and itching.
Numerous warm-weather factors make it easier for bacteria to thrive. So, just as skin exposed to the sun is more likely to burn, our urinary tracts are more likely to be exposed to bacteria in the summer. These contributing factors include:
Thirsty bodies. We sweat out a lot of fluids in the summer, and our bodies need those liquids to flush out bacteria, waste, and toxins. If not removed, the bacteria could cause an infection. Prevention Tip: Keep a bottle of water nearby, always. The Institute of Medicine recommends women drink nine glasses of non-sugary fluid a day, and men drink 13. Those number should increase when one sweats.
Warmer welcomes. Bacteria grow well in warm, humid environments – and that includes the poolside chair. Women are especially vulnerable, because they have shorter urethras and therefore less distance for the bacteria to travel to the bladder.
Prevention Tip: Limit bacteria’s access to the urethra. After going to the bathroom, wipe from front to back, so poop residue (e. Coli) remains at a distance.
Dressing for the occasion. Everyone should avoid playing beach volleyball, or any game, in a wet suit. A damp swimsuit, if worn for prolonged periods, contributes to the humid environments in which bacteria breed.
Prevention Tip: Pack a pair of shorts, wrap, or skirt when going for a swim and change into them during prolonged pool breaks.
Sex suggestions. Sexual intercourse can lead to a UTI if the urethra makes contact with bacteria from the partner’s genital area. Factor in the heat and humidity, and the risk climbs. Prevention Tip: Urinate soon after intercourse and drink a full glass of water to cleanse the urinary tract.
How to Know if You Have a Summertime UTI
Even with these measures of prevention, some people are more susceptible to UTIs. As we age, for example, our bodies tend to be at greater risk. Common symptoms include:
- Painful and burning urination
- The urge to pee often and immediately
- Urinating only small amounts, despite feeling the need to go
- Cloudy, bad-smelling, or bloody urine
- Lower abdominal pain
- Fever and chills (a fever of more than 101° may indicate an upper UTI)
- Nausea and vomiting (upper UTI)
- Pain in the lower back and side (upper UTI)
Symptoms specific to men:
- Pain during ejaculation
- Pain behind the scrotum
The good news is that despite the discomfort, UTIs usually are not serious, and they can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Still, Treat a UTI Right Away
Because UTIs can exist in the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra, they do present the chance of complex side effects. These may include acute and chronic kidney infections, recurring infections, narrowing urethras (among men), and sepsis.
In severe cases, a UTI may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. So anyone experiencing symptoms should talk to a urologist without delay.