Treating a urinary tract infection (UTI) is not always easy. For people who experience frequent UTIs, antibiotics provide relief but can also come with some unwanted side effects (as well as the potential for antibiotic-resistant bacteria). For these reasons, there’s been growing interest in essential oils with antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties to treat UTIs.
Essential oils, also known as volatile oils, are products of the secondary metabolism of aromatic plants (a.k.a. plant extracts). While they have been used in the practice of aromatherapy for centuries, they’ve recently become more popular at-home remedies for a wide variety of ailments. It is believed that essential oils can make a positive impact on your overall health, and help relieve UTI symptoms when used in a safe way.
What Is a UTI?
A UTI – sometimes known as cystitis – is a bacterial infection that occurs in the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys. These organs make up our urinary tract and work together as a natural drainage system, making and removing urine, which carries waste and extra fluid from our body. When a UTI occurs, it can cause severe discomfort or pain, especially when urinating.
Symptoms & Causes
Most UTI symptoms involve urination. However, other symptoms can affect your mid-section. Depending on the type of UTI you have and its severity, you may experience one, many, or none of the following symptoms:
- An intense and frequent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation or pain when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Cloud-colored urine
- Blood in the urine
- Strong or foul-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain (for women)
- Pain in the side, lower abdomen, or back
- Nausea and/or vomiting
UTIs are generally caused by bacteria (most commonly Escherichia coli or E. coli) that enter the body through the urethra and then target the urinary tract. UTIs can often be the result of:
- Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement
- Abnormalities in the shape of your urinary tract
- Sexual activity
- Contraceptive methods such as diaphragms and spermicides
- Urinating without emptying the bladder or holding pee in
Now that you understand the symptoms and causes of a UTI, let’s take a closer look at essential oils as a treatment option.
Essential Oils for UTIs
Treatment for UTIs typically involves antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
However, antibiotics can cause complications and side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and yeast infections.
For people who experience recurrent UTIs, it might be tempting to seek alternative treatments like essential oils, but it is important to do some research before using essential oils to help treat a UTI.
Essential oils may be a helpful method for healing and relieving UTI symptoms, but they should not be used in place of a drug. Essential oils have not been significantly studied for UTIs, however, some smaller studies have shown encouraging results.
For example, a 2020 study cited that cajeput, lemongrass, tea tree, and thyme exhibit antibacterial activities against a variety of pathogenic bacteria.
The following essential oils may help to fight bacteria that causes UTIs:
- Cajeput oil: Known mainly for its antimicrobial and analgesic properties, cajeput is also thought to be anti-inflammatory.
- Lemon or lemongrass oil: Research suggests lemongrass may have antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory attributes. It’s also been found to possibly help kill off some harmful pathogens.
- Tea tree oil: This oil has been shown to kill bacteria, likely thanks to a substance called terpinen-4-ol.
- Thyme oil: Thyme oil may have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties.
- Oregano oil: Like thyme oil, oregano has potential antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.
- Clove oil: Another oil known for its antibacterial properties, clove oil may help kill E. coli, particularly when the bacteria develop an antibiotic resistance, according to a 2016 study.
- Cinnamon leaf oil: Cinnamaldehyde, the chemical that gives cinnamon its flavor, may inhibit the growth of E. coli.
- Lavender oil: Not only does lavender contain calming properties, it is also believed to contain antibacterial properties.
- Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus oil may stop the growth of various types of bacteria.
How to Use Essential Oils for UTIs
If recommended by a doctor, you can use essential oils to help treat a UTI in two main ways: You can use a diffuser to breathe in the oil, or apply it directly to your skin.
If you choose to apply essential oils to your skin, dilute them first. To do so, place one to five drops in one ounce (two tablespoons) of a carrier oil. Carrier oils include:
- Sweet almond oil
- Sunflower oil
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
In order to avoid irritation, keep a few things in mind:
- Do not apply essential oils to the lining of the vagina or urethra.
- Inhaling essential oils is safer than using them topically. Put a few drops into a diffuser.
- You can, however, apply diluted essential oils to the mons pubis, inner thighs, and outside the labia.
Risks and Warnings
Remember, just because something is “natural” does not mean it is harmless. The safety and effectiveness of essential oils depends on the quality and purity of the product. Additionally, there are a variety of risks associated with the use of essential oils—not just to yourself, but to other people and even pets.
Risks associated with essential oils include:
- Poisoning: Essential oils can be toxic when swallowed or when they come in contact with the skin.
- Allergic reactions: Essential oils can trigger allergic reactions, especially in people with allergies, eczema, or sensitive skin.
- Skin damage: Certain essential oils can cause skin irritations and rashes, or may damage the skin.
- Chemical changes in the sun: If you apply cumin, citrus, or wild celery oils to your skin and then go out in the sun, you can experience a sunburn because the oils chemically change in the light.
- Harm to pets: Some oils can also be harmful or even deadly for pets, particularly cats. Keep oils stored in a safe place, and ask a veterinarian before using them in a diffuser.
Other UTI Treatment Options
Antibiotics are usually the first line treatment for UTIs. While the prescription takes time to set in, some complementary home remedies may help with UTI pain and discomfort. These include:
- Drinking plenty of water. This will make you have to pee more, which can help flush the bacteria from your urinary tract.
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and anything with citrus juice. These can irritate the bladder, making you feel the need to urinate more often.
- Applying a warm heating pad to your abdomen to ease bladder pressure and discomfort.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you have a UTI, it’s always best to contact your doctor before trying any treatment, whether that’s a medication or a home remedy like essential oils. A health care provider can make sure you have a UTI, rather than a sexually transmitted disease, which can have similar symptoms. And a proper diagnosis leads to the proper treatment and feeling better faster.
In addition to remedying symptoms sooner, seeing a doctor immediately helps prevent the infection from spreading. You don’t want a UTI to spread, or your risk developing a bladder infection or kidney infection. If you are considering essential oils for treatment, talk to your doctor during your visit or over the phone or video chat.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable UTI treatment with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms using our AI-driven symptom checker and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.