3 Reasons the Cold & Flu Make You Leak Urine

This piece has been medically reviewed by Aleece Fosnight, MPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF, Medical Advisor to Aeroflow Urology.

The colder months are here, and with the drop in temperature comes more stuffy noses, sore throats, coughs, and sneezes.

You may know how to cure a cold or rest up from the flu, but do you know how to prevent urine leakage?

While this may seem like an odd question to ask, you’ll need to know this winter. Find out why in this post and learn the proper steps to prevent accidents.

Why Does Illness Cause Urinary Incontinence?

Having a cold, the flu, or Covid can cause you to have bladder leaks. This occurs in winter for a number of reasons.

1. Pressure on the Pelvic Floor

Upper respiratory infections or illnesses that make your chest and throat irritated usually lead you to cough or sneeze. When coughing and sneezing, you place pressure on your abdominal muscles which also put pressure on your pelvic floor muscles.

The pelvic muscles are like a hammock to your bladder, bowels, and uterus and hold them all in place. They also allow you to control when you pee, which is known as continence.

Check Your Eligibility

2 Easy Steps

Discover the continence care essentials available through your Medicaid plan.

Have your insurance card ready!

Date of Birth Please provide the date of birth for the person in need of continence care supplies (yourself, your child, etc.)

Excessive force from coughing and sneezing fatigues these muscles and you lose the support of your urethra and bladder. When you no longer have control over your bladder, you experience urinary incontinence- specifically, stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Stress incontinence causes urine leaks when sneezing, coughing, bending over, or lifting heavy objects.

2. Recovery From Illness

When you have a cold or flu, you need to rest and hydrate, and chances are you’ll be taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications. While these are the proper steps to take to heal from sickness, each one leads to increased urinary symptoms. Here's how.

  • Resting: Decreased physical activity while recovering from illness leads to weak muscles, particularly your pelvic floor muscles, adding to incontinence symptoms like bladder leakage.
  •  Hydration: Increasing your fluid intake causes your kidneys to filter more fluid from your body, making you pee more frequently.
  • OTC medications: Certain OTC cold medications lead to constipation

The hard and backed-up stool that forms when you’re constipated pushes on your bladder and decreases the sensation of needing to empty your bladder, causing leaks and more frequent voiding urges.

3. Covid-19 Response

When you have Covid, your body has an extreme inflammatory response in which cytokines (proteins) are secreted by your immune system to fight the inflammation. Cytokines directly attack your bladder and cause damage to the nerves that supply the bladder, leading to an increased urge to pee. Even after recovering from a Covid-19 infection, you may still experience bladder control problems.

Why You May Leak More This Winter

While there’s always a chance you’ll experience urinary incontinence symptoms during the cold and flu season when you’re sick, this year may bring an even greater chance you’ll experience changes in your urinary system.

Why? The pandemic and its effect on our immune systems.

Typical pandemics usually last around 3 years before affecting people as a routine cold, so there may be another surge of Covid this winter season. Along with this, there may be increased illness and upper respiratory infections since our immune systems haven’t been as exposed to these viruses since the pandemic began.

It’s estimated that you may experience 2 to 3 colds this winter season rather than the typical 1 or 2 and that when you get a cold, it will last longer than usual. This will give your body extra opportunities to have changes that lead to incontinence- specifically coughing, sneezing, body aches, resting, less exercise, and dehydration.

How to Reduce Leaks

Taking care of your body and bladder will be vital this coming winter season! Here’s what to do to keep things functioning properly.

  • Hydrate. Staying hydrated helps your kidneys filter out bladder irritants that may be present in the body while you’re sick. Drinking enough fluids also helps your body recover from illness by filtering out toxins.
  • Wear bladder control products. Incontinence products can help control bladder leaks if you’re experiencing symptoms of incontinence. Many options are discreet and comfortable, such as:

    • Bladder control pads: Absorbent pads that have an adhesive strip to stick to undergarments.

    • Adult protective underwear: Made to look and feel like real underwear, these ultra-absorbent products will keep you dry and fit comfortably under your clothes.

If you need bladder control pads or protective underwear and have been diagnosed with urinary incontinence by your healthcare provider, you may be eligible to receive your products for free through Medicaid.

See if you qualify in under 5 minutes today!

  • Empty your bladder often. Since you’ll be hydrating more when you’re sick, your bladder will fill up faster, so voiding more frequently can fight the sudden urge to urinate and accidents when your bladder fills up too quickly.
  • Exercise. You may not feel like it, but physical movement has been shown to help shorten a cold as well as keep your pelvic floor muscles strong throughout your cold and recovery. You should move your whole body, but you can also focus on pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel exercises.

These will help strengthen your pelvic floor and reduce leaks. To do Kegels, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles up and in, then hold and release.

  • See your healthcare provider. You should see your provider if you have a chronic cough, but if you’re also experiencing incontinence, let them know so they can inform you of any lifestyle changes you should make to reduce symptoms.
  • Supplement with aloe vera. Aloe vera has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body, improve your immune system, and soothe your urinary tract. You can take aloe vera supplements while you’re sick or experiencing urinary incontinence symptoms.

Aleece Fosnight

Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF is a Medical Advisor and Writer for Aeroflow Urology and a board-certified physician assistant specializing in sexual medicine, women’s health, and urology. In 2019, she opened up her own private practice, the Fosnight Center for Sexual Health, and implemented the sexual health grand rounds curriculum at her local hospital and residency program.

Aleece is also the founder of the Fosnight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of professionals in the sexual health field and providing funding for access to healthcare services in her local community.


Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.