DEAR DOCTOR K: I think my 4-year-old daughter may have a urinary tract infection. How will it be treated? And what can I do to make sure she doesn’t get another one?
DEAR READER: A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria infect urine in the kidneys, bladder or urethra, a small tube that connects the bladder to the outside.
In girls (and women), the urethra is located in front of the vagina. If bacteria from bowel movements get into the urethra, they can move up into the bladder. From there, they can move into the kidneys. This is what causes a UTI.
UTIs can cause fever, pain with urination, back pain and stomach pain. Repeated UTIs over months and years can cause kidney damage, particularly if they are not treated promptly.
To check for a UTI, your daughter’s doctor will take her temperature because UTIs often cause fever. The doctor will also examine her for tenderness in the lower part of the belly (where the bladder is) or in the lower back (where the kidneys are). He or she will also test your child’s urine for infection.
If your daughter does have a UTI, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Make sure your daughter finishes the entire course of antibiotics, even if she starts to feel much better after the first several pills. If the antibiotic is stopped too soon, the UTI can return.
Drinking lots of liquids will help clear the infection and prevent dehydration that can develop during a fever.
UTIs are painful and uncomfortable. To prevent another one:
• Make sure your daughter drinks enough fluids and urinates regularly.
• Avoid bubble baths and strong soaps that could irritate the genital area. This is especially true before puberty.
• Teach your daughter to wipe herself only from front to back, especially after bowel movements.
• Have your daughter wear cotton underwear. Cotton allows air to circulate more freely, which helps prevent bacteria from growing.
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