If you live in Austin you must have allergies. But for some people, allergy season is not about runny noses and watery eyes, it's about stocking up on incontinence pads.
"Why is that?" you may ask. Well, for some women, a good hard sneeze brings more than a tissue to their nose: it also brings that dreaded leak of urine that doctors refer to as stress incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when you laugh, cough, strain, or sneeze and end-up leaking some urine despite your efforts to try and stop it. Stress incontinence happens to millions of women ages 26 to 86 and can be due to a number of factors.
One is childbirth. When a woman delivers a baby vaginally, the muscles used to control urination can get stretched out and weakened. Another factor can be loss of estrogen. When menopause hits, the loss of estrogen affects many things in addition to mood and bone density, one of which being the strength of the muscles and tissues that aid in holding back urine when you laugh, cough, strain, or sneeze.
But here's the bottom line: whether it's after childbirth or after menopause, if these muscles get weak, your urine can leak. And when this happens it's embarrassing, awkward, and upsetting but it does not have to be something you must learn to live with.
You're probably wondering: "If the muscles are just weak ,can't I work them out and make them stronger?" Sometimes you can, and the exercises are called Kegals. In order to do Kegal exercises you must locate the correct muscle to work. To do this, try to stop the flow of urine as you begin urinating without tensing the muscles of your legs, buttocks, or abdomen. Did you stop the flow of urine? Good, then you just did a Kegal. Do them to a slow count of five, and relax to a slow count of five, and consider that one "set." You can do them in the car, on the couch, or anywhere you want (no one will know you're doing them but you!). Try to do 10 "sets" three to four times a day and you may start seeing improvements in your urinary control within 4-6 weeks.
For those women who have passed menopause, using a vaginal estrogen cream can also help. The application of such a cream can strengthen the tissues around the urethra without any appreciable increase in the body's estrogen levels.
If you've tried these and they didn't work, don't lose hope. It just means you need to turn to your Urologist or Gynecologist for help. They can offer you some highly effective, and minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can give you back the support your urethra is lacking and, in doing so, improve your ability to hold back urine.
So, if you're ready to throw away your incontinence pads this allergy season, work on your Kegals, or talk to your Urologist or Gynecologist about how they can help this season to be a "dry" one for you.
Dr. Randy Fagin, a father of two, is a urologist with The Urology Team here in Austin and also the Director of Robotic Surgery at St. David's Hospital.