Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own. If treatment is needed, it can be based on a discussion of options with your doctor and identifying what will work best for your situation.
If your child isn't especially bothered or embarrassed by an occasional wet night, lifestyle changes — such as avoiding caffeine entirely and limiting fluid intake in the evening — may work well. However, if lifestyle changes aren't successful or if your grade schooler is terrified about wetting the bed, he or she may be helped by additional treatments.
If found, underlying causes of bed-wetting, such as constipation or sleep apnea, should be addressed before other treatment.
Options for treating bed-wetting may include moisture alarms and medication.
These small, battery-operated devices — available without a prescription at most pharmacies — connect to a moisture-sensitive pad on your child's pajamas or bedding. When the pad senses wetness, the alarm goes off.
Ideally, the moisture alarm sounds just as your child begins to urinate — in time to help your child wake, stop the urine stream and get to the toilet. If your child is a heavy sleeper, another person may need to listen for the alarm and wake the child.
If you try a moisture alarm, give it plenty of time. It often takes one to three months to see any type of response and up to 16 weeks to achieve dry nights. Moisture alarms are effective for many children, carry a low risk of relapse or side effects, and may provide a better long-term solution than medication does. These devices are not typically covered by insurance.
As a last resort, your child's doctor may prescribe medication for a short period of time to stop bed-wetting. Certain types of medication can:
Slow nighttime urine production. The drug desmopressin (DDAVP) reduces urine production at night. But drinking too much liquid with the medication can cause problems, and desmopressin should be avoided if your child has symptoms such as a fever, diarrhea or nausea. Be sure to carefully follow instructions for using this drug.
Desmopressin is given orally as a tablet and is only for children over 5 years old. According to the Food and Drug Administration, nasal spray formulations of desmopressin (Noctiva, others) are no longer recommended for treatment of bed-wetting due to the risk of serious side effects.
- Calm the bladder. If your child has a small bladder, an anticholinergic drug such as oxybutynin (Ditropan XL) may help reduce bladder contractions and increase bladder capacity, especially if daytime wetting also occurs. This drug is usually used along with other medications and is generally recommended when other treatments have failed.
Sometimes a combination of medications is most effective. There are no guarantees, however, and medication doesn't cure the problem. Bed-wetting typically resumes when medication is stopped, until it resolves on its own at an age that varies from child to child.