Taking an antibiotic isn’t the only way to get over symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Some remedies don’t require a prescription — and they can be done right at home in addition to any treatment your doctor has recommended.
But it’s important to be cautious with do-it-yourself home solutions, and be sure to check in with your doctor before trying a new strategy on your own. For example, mixing baking soda and water as a drink to help fight a urinary tract infection (UTI) can be risky if you drink too much of it. About 5 percent of baking soda–related poisonings in California between 2000 and 2012 were from drinking baking soda in an attempt to treat a UTI, according to research published in February 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
The following seven viable home remedies — from drinking lots of water to applying heat and wearing loose cotton clothing — may ease your agonizing UTI symptoms or prevent them in the first place:
- Get Your Fill of Water
One of the first things to do when you have a urinary tract infection is drink plenty of water. That’s because drinking water can help flush away the bacteria that’s causing your infection, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). It puts you on the right track for recovery.
Most people can be assured they’re getting the water they need by simply drinking water when thirsty, according to the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. General recommendations have suggested that women get about 91 ounces of water daily and men get about 125 ounces each day, including water from food, as also noted in that group’s report.
- Load Up on Vitamin C for a Healthy Urinary Tract
Getting plenty of foods high in vitamin C is important because large amounts of vitamin C make urine more acidic. This inhibits the growth of bacteria in your urinary tract, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s health library. If you have an active UTI, taking vitamin C supplements may help, too, advises Kandis Rivers, MD, a urologist in the Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
- Soothe UTI Pain With Heat
Inflammation and irritation from UTIs cause burning, pressure, and pain around your pubic area, Dr. Rivers says. Applying a heating pad can help soothe the area. Keep the heat setting low, don’t apply it directly to the skin, and limit your use to 15 minutes at a time to avoid burns.
- Cut Bladder Irritants From Your Diet
When you have a UTI, caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, nicotine, carbonated drinks, and artificial sweeteners can irritate your bladder further, making it harder for your body to heal. Focus on healthy foods, such as high-fiber carbohydrates (such as oatmeal or lentil soup), that are good for your digestive health, says Holly Lucille, ND, RN, a naturopathic doctor in private practice in West Hollywood, California, and the author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman’s Guide to Safe, Natural Hormone Health.
- Go Ahead, Empty Your Bladder Again
Every time you empty your bladder — even if it’s just a small amount — you rid it of some of the bacteria causing the infection. Keep making those bathroom runs, advises Rivers.
- Consider Herbal Remedies
You may find some relief from taking the herb uva ursi (bearberry leaf), which is sometimes used as an herbal remedy for lower urinary tract infections. But Rivers cautions that it should be taken only for short periods of time — five days or less — as it could cause liver damage. In addition, the herb goldenseal may be used as a remedy for UTIs, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
It’s important to note that even though these herbs may help some, there have been no large randomized controlled trials (the gold standard when it comes to proving the effectiveness of a drug or treatment in medicine) testing either of these remedies for this purpose.
And always be sure to check with your doctor before taking goldenseal or other supplements. Supplements, herbs, and other medications you might be taking can cause side effects or may interact with one another. The effects can sometimes be serious.
- Change to Healthier Habits
Lifestyle changes matter because they can help you recover from a UTI and might prevent another infection, according to the NIDDK.
Wear loose cotton clothing and underwear.
Wipe yourself clean from front to back.
Choose only fragrance-free personal hygiene products
About Cranberry Juice and UTIs
For years, unsweetened cranberry juice was thought to help flush away bacteria and keep them from sticking to the bladder wall, possibly helping to prevent or reduce recurrent UTIs. But a review of 14 studies published in December 2013 in American Family Physician showed that cranberry juice might not have real benefits.
While more studies may clear up this issue, for now cranberry juice is no longer recommended as a UTI fighter.