OAB: When You Have an Accident

How to take control of your overactive bladder and reduce the chance of accidents.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 12, 2012
4 min read

An overactive bladder (OAB) doesn't have to keep you close to home. Whether your OAB symptoms are caused by age, medical issues, pregnancy, or disability, there are steps you can take to prevent accidents or to manage them discreetly when they do happen.

Coping with accidents is much easier if you use the right tools for the job.

Choices include panty liners, sanitary pads, absorbent adult briefs, and reusable garments with protective outer layers. Pads and panty liners might help if you have small, occasional leaks -- but they may not always be enough.

Because the urine-holding capacity of each product can vary, you may have to try several products and brands before you find the right one for you.

If you've got OAB, you may also have a higher risk of rashes and skin breakdowns.

There are several reasons for that. To keep harmful bacteria at bay, skin is slightly acidic, but when urine touches flesh, skin becomes moist and more alkaline.

The result is an inviting environment for bacteria and yeast , which can lead to rashes and infection.

Prevention can be simple:

  • Check your skin daily, looking for rashes or other signs of irritation. Be sure to separate and check any skin folds, too.
  • Wash carefully after every accident, using mild soaps or perineal washes; additionally, avoid hot water, which can make irritated skin even worse.
  • To avoid skin tears and even more irritation, let skin air-dry; don't rub.
  • Apply a cream, ointment, or film-forming skin protectant regularly to help keep urine away from tender skin.

When you have an accident because of OAB, odor may be one of your first concerns. Though you can't prevent it completely, you can curb odor. Here's how:

  • Stay hydrated -- without going overboard. The more concentrated your urine is, the stronger it smells.
  • Consider taking urine deodorizing tablets, such as vitamin C, or supplements made for this purpose. You can also help reduce urine odor by drinking apple, pear, cherry, and other noncitrus juices.
  • To remove odor from clothes or your mattress, try using one part white vinegar to two parts water, baking soda, or commercial cleaners made to remove urine. Bleach kills bacteria, but it isn't as effective as vinegar at dissolving urine crystals.

An extra set of clothes at work or in the car are an obvious must if you have had -- or fear you'll have -- OAB accidents.

Include a large, waterproof storage bag for your wet clothes, too. And to help cope with accidents, some people get in the habit of carrying or wearing long coats or favor darker colors.

It seems so simple: Drink less and you'll have fewer OAB accidents. Yet that's not how your body really works.

Drink too little and you can end up with urethra and bladder irritation, constipation, concentrated urine (which has a stronger smell, if accidents do occur), or even an infection.

So how much should you drink daily? There's no one right amount for everyone, but aim for about 6 cups (about one and a half liters) of liquids per day.

If you have accidents at night, stop drinking fluids 2-4 hours before bed.

Lots of things -- including caffeine, alcohol, acidic foods and drinks, sweeteners, hot spices, and fizzy drinks -- can irritate your bladder. Although many foods and drinks can make OAB symptoms worse, you don't necessarily have to avoid all of them.

Instead, take the time to discover exactly what triggers your OAB. Is it the acids of citrus and tomatoes? The lactic acid in dairy products like aged cheese, yogurt, or sour cream? Or is it the caffeine in dark chocolates, sodas, tea, and coffee?

Start by excluding a food or drink you think may be aggravating your symptoms, then add small amounts back to your diet slowly.

You don't need to completely overhaul your life to get a handle on overactive bladder symptoms and avoid accidents. Simple changes may be all you need to prevent most mishaps, including:

  • At home, keep the path to the bathroom clear (and light the path at night, if you need to). You might even consider removing the bathroom door.
  • Wear easy-to-open clothes.
  • Empty your bladder before bed, a big meeting, or a trip.

Learning where your pelvic floor muscles are and how to isolate them can help you make the most of pelvic floor exercises called Kegels.

You can do Kegels anywhere, without anyone noticing. With a little practice, Kegels can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles -- and that can help reduce feelings of urgency, the need to frequently urinate, and accidents.