Dysuria: Infection vs. Chemical (Child)

The urethra is the channel that passes urine from the bladder. In a girl, the opening of the urethra is above the vagina. In a boy, it's at the tip of the penis. Dysuria is having pain or a burning feeling in the urethra when peeing.

Dysuria can be caused by anything that irritates or inflames the urethra. The cause for your child's dysuria is not certain. The most common cause of dysuria in young children is chemical irritation. Soaps, bubble baths, or skin lotions that get inside the urethra can cause this reaction. Symptoms will get better in 1 to 3 days after the last exposure.

Sometimes a bladder infection causes dysuria. A urine test can show this. The healthcare provider will treat a bacterial bladder infection with antibiotics. Sometimes, children can get a viral infection of the bladder. This will get better with time. You don't need antibiotics for a viral infection.

Dysuria may also occur in young girls with inflammation in the outer vaginal area (rash or vaginal infection). Treatment is directed at the cause of the outer vaginal irritation. You may be given a cream for this.

A vaginal infection may cause vaginal discharge and dysuria. A culture can diagnose this. Antibiotics may be needed to treat the infection.

Labial adhesions are a common cause of dysuria in young girls. Parts of the labia are attached together. A small tear can cause pain. The tear will get better on its own. But an estrogen cream can be used to help treat the adhesions.

Minor injury from activities or self-exploration can also lead to dysuria.

In rare cases, dysuria is a result of genital injury from sexual abuse. If you have concerns about possible sexual abuse, contact your child's healthcare provider right away. Or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) to get help.

Home care

These tips will help you care for your child at home:

  • Wash the genitals gently with a washcloth and soapy water. Make sure soap doesn't get inside the urethra. Dry the area well.

  • If you think bubble bath soap caused the reaction, stop using bubble baths.

  • Use over-the-counter diaper creams to help with irritation in the genital area.

  • Encourage your child to drink water. Have them stay away from foods and drinks that can cause bladder infections. These include caffeinated drinks, sodas, and chocolate.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised. If the provider took a culture specimen, call for the result as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Symptoms don't go away after 3 days, or new symptoms

  • Fever, generally 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as advised by the provider

  • Inability to pee due to pain

  • Increased redness or rash in the genital area

  • Discharge/bloody drainage from the penis or vagina

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