Adult diaper rash is a common condition, especially for people with incontinence, or those being cared for by a loved one or staff at a long-term care facility. It’s typically not serious but can get worse if left untreated. Prevention is often the best treatment.
When most people think about incontinence, they likely think of a condition that causes brief, potentially frequent bladder leaks, or accidents. These can be frustrating enough – the need to stop whatever you’re doing to change clothes and undergarments (or maybe even sheets). Not to mention the embarrassment that can cause if you’re in a public setting. However, skin care is another incredibly important factor to consider when you have incontinence or are caring for someone with incontinence, especially when absorbent products come into play. Adult diaper rash is a common by-product of incontinence. Read on for some common questions about adult diaper rash and steps you can take to prevent it.
What is adult diaper rash?
Adult diaper rash is when the skin around the diaper area (or even around pads you may be wearing) becomes pink or red in color and irritated in some way. It may look like a sore and can be itchy or painful, causing you or your loved one discomfort. While adult diaper rash is most common in those with urinary incontinence, it can happen to anyone under the right circumstances.
What causes diaper rash in adults?
Prolonged periods of wetness can be a cause of diaper rash. This may happen if you are waiting too long in between absorbent product changes. Any wetness can cause skin irritation if left for too long, but skin can be especially sensitive to urine, sweat, or stool. Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea can also lead to diaper rash since feces is more irritating than urine.
Chafing can happen when a material rubs against the skin causing friction, or when folds of skin stick to each other for a prolonged period of time, causing skin irritation. Diapers that don’t fit correctly, or too tight clothing can cause chafing. Chafing may occur more during warmer months of the year due to the increase in potential sweat, or if you sit in a soiled diaper for too long.
There is a surprising amount of technology that goes into an adult absorbent product. Some products use materials or chemicals to help keep the product from becoming too wet or to help keep odor at bay. You may be allergic to a chemical or material used in your absorbent product (briefs or pads) or may have an allergy to a barrier cream or ointment you are using.
Many people with urinary incontinence go through several products per day. But if you’re not cleaning the genital area well after each change, and doing a thorough cleaning each day, you may be leaving urine or stool on your skin, setting yourself up for skin irritation and diaper rash to occur.
Yeast and fungal infections are very common in those who wear absorbent products, as these bacteria and fungus like to grow in warm, moist settings. These infections can cause skin irritation.
What if I don’t wear diapers – can I still get a diaper rash?
Yes. While adult diaper rash is more common in those with urinary incontinence, it can happen to anyone under the right circumstances. Wearing clothing that is too tight or doesn’t fit properly can create friction or moisture, causing chafing and irritation to occur. Additionally, sitting for too long in wet clothes (after a workout or after swimming) can lead to skin irritation.
What are the symptoms of adult diaper rash?
Mild cases of diaper rash may include:
pink or red skin, with dry patches or bumps
More serious cases of diaper rash may develop if left for too long:
Red and tender skin, raw, inflamed, or burnt-looking skin, warm to the touch.
Bleeding or oozing
May cause burning or pain with urination or a bowel movement. (may indicate UTI)
In very severe cases, your diaper rash may be caused by an infection and may also be accompanied by a fever, exhaustion, or full-body aches and pains.
Treatment for adult diaper rash.
Most cases of adult diaper rash can be treated by keeping the area clean and applying a healing ointment or cream.
Make sure to change the absorbent product frequently – don’t stay in a product that has been soiled or has become sweaty. Even slightly wet products can prolong the treatment of the rash.
Wash thoroughly, but gently. Make sure to wash and rinse the genital area after each change with lukewarm water and mild, chemical-free soap. Don’t scrub or irritate the rash.
Thoroughly dry the area by patting it dry with a towel (don’t rub). Allow the area to air out for a few minutes before dressing.
Apply a diaper rash cream to the irritated skin. There are many over-the-counter creams that contain zinc oxide that can soothe the skin and create a barrier to protect it from additional chafing. LL Medico and Live Anew, two of our Trusted Partners also carry lines of ointment.
Ensure that your product or clothing fits properly and is not too tight.
Treatment for diaper rash from a yeast infection or fungal infection.
If you find that your rash is caused by a yeast or fungal infection, your doctor may prescribe a topical antifungal cream or oral medication to treat it.
What if my diaper rash doesn’t go away?
With proper treatment and a good hygiene plan in place, a diaper rash should go away within a couple of days. If it doesn’t or if your rash is extremely painful, you have a fever, or it hurts to urinate or pass stool, make an appointment with your doctor to see if there is an underlying cause for the rash.
Preventing adult diaper rash
The good news is that adult diaper rash can be prevented. Follow the steps below to avoid this potentially painful and frustrating problem:
Ensure your diaper fits properly. A diaper that is too tight or too loose can not only affect how well it keeps you dry, but it can also cause friction, leading to diaper rash. Read our guide for how to find the best fit here, or check out our list of Trusted Partners. Many of our partners offer a free consultation by phone to help you find the right product.
Change often – don’t sit in a diaper after it’s been soiled for longer than absolutely necessary.
Clean the area well after each change. Be sure to use lukewarm water and mild soap. Rinse thoroughly to remove any soapy residue. If you’re unable to wash, carry non-irritating wipes as a backup, until you’re able to wash properly.
Wash yourself thoroughly once per day.
Allow your diaper area to air out before dressing.
Don’t over-tighten your absorbent brief, or wear tight-fitting clothing.
Apply a moisture barrier ointment to your skin to prevent chafing and friction.
If you do develop a diaper rash, treat it right away.
Consider looking for a different product if you experience frequent episodes of diaper rash. Some things to look for are hypoallergenic products, products that absorb moisture and wick it away from the skin, products with increased airflow, or products that use more natural materials, such as reusable or washable cotton briefs or pads.