One of the most-prescribed methods for easing discomfort in and cleaning the perineal area is a sitz bath. Doctors recommend this hydrotherapy to patients following injury, surgery, or medical conditions affecting the perineum. Although nursing staff may administer sitz baths in a medical facility, they are easy to carry out at home, as well.
What is a Sitz Bath?
A sitz bath requires sitting in warm, shallow water that covers only the hips and buttocks, with the aim of soaking and cleansing the perineal area around the anus. Although sitz baths may help relieve pain and discomfort, studies do not show they accelerate wound healing. Some physicians recommend adding salt, vinegar, baking soda, or an antiseptic like povidone-iodine to the sitz bath.
Prescribing Sitz Baths
Doctors prescribe sitz baths to their patients to relieve irritation. They also recommend them as part of an aftercare regimen for injuries, surgery, or other procedures on or around the perineum. It is a common treatment for women following an episiotomy — an incision the obstetrician may make to widen a woman’s vaginal opening during childbirth.
At home, individuals need only a bathtub or large basin to take a sitz bath. The container should be deep enough that the person can sit in it and immerse the perineal area. They can also purchase a sitz bath bowl from a local medical supplier or online store; these are designed to sit on the toilet seat. Some doctors say that a detachable showerhead can achieve similar results if a tub or sitz bath bowl is not available.
How It Works
Because the perineum area comes into contact with a variety of bacteria, the risk of infection is high if it is not kept clean. Sitz baths can provide this important cleansing. Furthermore, warm water increases blood flow to the area, relaxes the muscles, and helps reduce acute inflammation and pain. Itching is a common complaint during healing from injuries or procedures in this region, and a sitz bath can relieve this side effect, as well.
Doctors often recommend sitz baths to soothe and encourage healing following the surgical removal of hemorrhoids or after a sphincterotomy, a procedure that helps heal anal fissures or tears. Sitz baths are sometimes effective in the treatment of painful Bartholin’s cysts that women can develop within the vagina. Soaking in sitz baths several times a day may cause the cyst to rupture and drain, easing discomfort.
Urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, and bacterial vaginosis cause urethral irritation, which can also lead to irritation in the rectum and cervix. Sitz baths help a patient feel more comfortable until they can undergo medical treatment, although they do not get rid of the infection — the physician will usually prescribe antibiotics for this treatment.
Some females experience dyspareunia or pain during penetration. There are many possible psychological and physical causes for this condition. If the dyspareunia is primarily superficial, occurring at the vaginal opening, the physician may recommend topical anesthetics and sitz baths to relieve the issue.
How to Prepare a Sitz Bath
Sitz bath water should be warm, between 99 and 102 degrees. Testing the water on the wrist before sitting can help determine whether the water is too hot. Fill a sitz bath container about two-thirds full or fill a bathtub with about five inches of water. If adding an ingredient such as salt or baking soda, swirl the water to dissolve it. Soak the perineum area for 10 to 20 minutes at least two to three times each day until the issue improves or as directed by a doctor.
Important Tips to Remember
Physicians advise against adding soap to a sitz bath, as these products can dry out the skin and cause further issues. Proper rinsing is important following the sitz bath, especially if there was an additional ingredient in the water. Afterward, use a clean towel to gently pat the skin dry, but avoid rubbing the area. Clean the sitz bath bowl or bathtub thoroughly after use.
Sitz Bath Issues
Because they are noninvasive, sitz baths lead to few complications and doctors consider them a safe treatment for most people. However, it is important to clean the bathtub or sitz bath bowl after each use to reduce the chance of infection. If the discomfort, itching, or pain becomes worse following sitz bath treatments, stop taking them, and seek medical attention.