Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a severe public health problem that affects around 150 million people each year globally. In the U.S. alone, UTIs account for over 10 million visits to medical facilities on an annual basis.
Caused by a wide range of pathogens, UTIs are often accompanied by agonizing symptoms such as burning pain during urination, abdominal pain, fever, backaches, and more. While most UTIs aren’t serious, if not treated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
Fortunately, UTIs can be treated easily with a prescribed course of antibiotics. However, high recurrence rates and increasing antibiotic resistance amongst uropathogens mean that antibiotics aren’t always effective. This is why experts, and patients alike, seek alternative methods of over-the-counter (OTC) UTI treatment that doesn’t involve the use of antibiotics.
While antibiotics are considered the golden standard for treating UTIs, there are still some precautionary measures you can take to help manage your symptoms better. In this article, we will discuss a range of OTC treatment options for UTI symptoms to help speed up your recovery.
Why antibiotics are the golden standard?
Urinary tract infections occur due to an external bacterial infection in the urinary tract of a body. The most common treatment option is a course of antibiotic therapy that targets the pathogens and the bacteria causing the infection.
The appropriate antibiotic course leads to higher symptomatic and bacteriological cure rates and significantly reduces the chances of reinfection. The types of antibiotics prescribed as the first line of treatment are based upon the type of bacteria found in your urine after the urine analysis, your health status, and the severity of the infection.
Treatment concerns for antibiotics
While most UTIs can be effectively managed and treated with a course of antibiotics, more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to different types of antibiotics due to mutations in their genetic code. Every time you take an antibiotic, the bacteria that are in your system are more likely to adapt and mutate and become resistant to the administered antibiotic. And since recurrence rates in the case of UTIs are high, it’s a strong possibility that an antibiotic may not be effective every time. Many antibiotics such as ampicillin, amoxicillin, and sulfonamides are no longer effective against stronger mutated bacteria and hence are not a good choice for combatting these infections.
Antibiotics can also have adverse effects on the flora of the gut and the vagina. Many antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones cannot be prescribed to pregnant women because of the concerns that they might have a possible toxic effect on the fetus.
Other health risks and adverse effects associated with antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infections include extreme allergic reactions and numerous side effects. These can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
Another potential risk of taking antibiotics is that they might destroy some of the good bacteria residing in your system that help with your systematic bodily functions without harming you. The death of these bacteria opens up the passageway to a whole new range of possible infections.
Consequently, evolving practice is looking for alternative forms of OTC UTI treatment to manage the symptoms of the infection while also reducing antibiotic use. However, it is important to note that while the use of antibiotics may have its side effects, they are still considered to be the best and the fastest means of treating a UTI. Your doctor will be able to better prescribe you a course of antibiotics based on the bacteria found in your urinalysis.
OTC UTI treatment options
UTIs are typically treated with a course of antibiotics that may run for a single day or a course of 7 days but usually lasts at an average of 1-3 days for uncomplicated urinary tract infections. However, some infections might not even need a course of antibiotics and may cease to exist. But, while treatment of UTIs without antibiotics may be a possible prospect in the future, for now, only a few equally effective OTC UTI treatments are available that can help a patient manage their symptoms. These include:
- Paracetamol: Almost always available as an over-the-counter drug, paracetamol is one of the best OTC UTI treatment drugs available since it helps alleviate the pain associated with UTI symptoms.
- Phenazopyridine: An OTC UTI treatment medication, phenazopyridine numbs the lining of the urinary tract to help relieve the pain you feel when urinating.
- Ibuprofen: Ibuprofen’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent OTC UTI treatment By reducing any inflammation in your urinary tract, this OTC treatment for your UTI symptoms can help you experience less discomfort and reduce your urge to pee frequently.
- Cystex: A popular OTC treatment drug for UTI symptoms, Cystex is a combination of methenamine, benzoic acid, and sodium salicylate that is meant to ease the pain experienced during a UTI.
- Heat pads: Warm heat pads on your back, stomach, or between the thighs are considered to be a great OTC UTI treatment method to help minimize the discomfort you feel following a UTI.
Hydration: Although not exactly an OTC UTI treatment method, hydration is still the key to treating a UTI quickly. If you’ve contracted a UTI, it is important to have fluids as frequently as possible so that you urinate more frequently and the harmful bacteria are flushed out of your urinary tract through natural means. This option means curing your symptoms without the use of medication.
- Probiotics: Probiotics serve as an excellent OTC UTI treatment option that helps promote digestion and immunity in your body. Probiotics restore the good bacteria present in your gut and reduce the chances of reinfection.
- Ascorbic Acid: Increasing your Vitamin C intake not only strengthens your immune system but is also a greater OTC UTI treatment option since it helps acidify the urine which may reduce the chance of reinfection.
OTC UTI treatment: Key takeaway
Women are prone to contracting a urinary tract infection at least once in their life. Certain UTIs do not need treatment if they are diagnosed on time and if the symptoms are cared for, however, some UTIs require medical intervention in the form of antibiotics.
While antibiotics are the standard treatment for UTIs, researchers are looking for better OTC treatment options for UTI symptoms that might eliminate their need. Several OTC UTI treatment drugs help prevent and manage UTI symptoms but should never be considered a replacement to prescribed antibiotics. The only clinically proven cure for a UTI is a prescribed antibiotic and nothing else as of yet.
If you think you have a UTI, you may visit Family Medicine Austin and consult our healthcare experts. It is always advised to avoid self-treatment and seek medical help.