Silicone vs. Latex Catheters: Pros and Cons

November 08,2021 |
Doctor showing his patient information on a tablet.

Most people go through life with no severe complications of the urinary tract system. Their kidneys continue to filter blood into the ureters and the bladder, which is then emptied when nerve signals are sent to your brain indicating an urge to urinate. While common urological disorders are abundant in certain populations, sometimes things occur which may require additional assistance. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to empty your bladder on your own, your doctor may recommend the use of a urinary catheter. Urinary catheters help empty your bladder and can drastically improve your overall quality of life. For the most comfortable catheterization process, you’ll need to determine which type of catheter works best for your circumstances. To help you decide between a few options, here we’ll explore silicone vs. latex catheters and a few pros and cons of each.  

Different Types of Urinary Catheters

There are several different types of urinary catheters on the market. Some are used regularly by individuals outside of medical supervision while others are done in the hospital and only inserted or removed by a trained professional. The most common types of catheters include:

Intermittent Catheters

An intermittent catheter is a type of single-use catheter that’s inserted by an individual to assist with emptying the bladder. They’re inserted when an urge to empty the bladder is received and removed after the bladder has been completely emptied. Intermittent catheters must be thrown away after one use to avoid infections, but the process can be repeated several times throughout the day. Depending on the condition being treated, intermittent catheters may be needed for a few weeks or for longer periods of time over a few months.

Foley Catheters

A Foley catheter, also referred to as indwelling catheters, are inserted the same way as an intermittent catheter, but they’re left in place for longer, defined periods of time. Foley catheters are kept in place by a water-filled balloon and urine empties into a drainage bag. The drainage bag can be attached to the inside of your leg to allow for mobility. Foley catheters need to be changed every three months to avoid infection.

You also have the option to choose between a straight tip and a coudé tip catheter. Straight tip catheters are 100% straight from end to end while coudé tip catheters have a slight curvature to help bypass any urethral obstructions. Talk to your doctor to determine which type of catheter will work best for your condition. Both are available in a wide variety of materials.

What are Silicone Catheters?

Silicone catheters are catheters that are made out of 100% silicone. They have absolutely no traces of latex in them, which is ideal for those who have latex allergies or are sensitive to the material. Silicone catheters are made for several different styles of catheters and are most commonly used for intermittent and Foley catheterization. They are inserted in the same exact manner as catheters made out of other materials, but you may need lubrication to assist insertion—unlike hydrophilic catheters, which are individually pre-lubricated. People that feel a certain degree of discomfort when inserting catheters should talk to their doctor about trying silicone catheters.

Benefits of Silicone Catheters

The biggest benefit of using a silicone catheter is that it is non-allergenic and works well for those with sensitive skin. While silicone allergies do exist, they are very rare and far less common than latex allergies. Silicone may also be softer and therefore, better for those who experience discomfort with clean intermittent self-catheterization. Silicone is a super smooth material with a degree of flexibility, making insertion easy and causing less irritation to the urethra. They have less encrustation when compared to latex and are more tissue friendly. Silicone catheters also tend to have wider lumen to optimize drainage.

Disadvantages of Silicone Catheters

The flexibility of silicone catheters can be seen as a disadvantage if you have trouble with intermittent self-catheterization. They will require more precision and some people find them to be too stiff. The best way to determine whether you prefer silicone or latex is to try both. Silicone Foley catheters have also been known to cause “cuffing” to the balloon, which can increase the difficulty of removal.

There are many urologic conditions that may require you to use catheterization either temporarily or for longer periods of time. Some of these include urinary incontinence and urinary retention. If you need to use one and choose to utilize a silicone catheter, your doctor will walk you through how to perform intermittent catheterization so that you are comfortable with the process before going home. While you may feel some discomfort or anxiety at first, self-catheterization should not cause you severe pain. If you feel any sharp or intense pain during insertion, stop inserting the catheter, remove it, and contact your doctor.

What are Latex Catheters?

Latex catheters are designed just like any other catheter, except they’re made from 100% latex. Latex is soft and flexible, similar to silicone, but also thermo-sensitive. This means that latex can adapt to the temperature of its environment, increasing pliability. Latex can be used in both Foley and intermittent catheters, giving you plenty of options to choose from based on your individual needs. If you’re unsure as to whether you have a latex allergy, talk to your doctor about running some tests prior to using latex catheters. This will help you avoid potential allergic reactions, which can severely complicate the catheterization process. Latex catheters should be coated with a protective layer to avoid irritation.

Benefits of Latex Catheters

The thermo-sensitive properties of latex are one reason that people prefer using them to other materials. They’re also flexible, which can ease discomfort during insertion for many people. If you have trouble inserting catheters, latex catheters may be a better option for you.

Weaknesses of Latex Catheters

The biggest weakness of latex catheters is that they can cause severe allergic reactions. Latex is a very common allergen, so it’s essential that these catheters are only used by those who know they are not allergic to the material. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor about undergoing tests or choose a silicone catheter. Latex catheters can also increase the risk of infection in certain individuals.

How to Care for Your Catheters

In addition to choosing the material your catheter is made of, you’ll want to find the right coating to use for insertion. There are several options, some of which help to protect your skin against harsh latex material, some make insertion more comfortable, and some provide protection against infection. Talk to your doctor to learn more about coating options for your intermittent catheters.

Intermittent catheters are used to empty an individual’s bladder and are not left in for longer periods of time. Once your bladder has been emptied with your catheter, it’s immediately removed and discarded. Before using any intermittent catheter, always wash your hands and ensure that you have a sanitary area ready. After you’ve inserted the catheter and drained your bladder, carefully remove it and throw it away. Regardless of which type of material you prefer, intermittent catheters should never be reused. They are designed and manufactured as single-use catheters and should therefore, always be thrown out after one use. Reusing any type of catheter can lead to dangerous infections and worsened urologic conditions. Foley catheters are used for long-term drainage and are attached to a collection bag. Your doctor will perform catheterization when using a Foley catheter to ensure that it’s done properly and in a sterile environment.

Choosing Between Silicone and Latex Catheters

There are several different types of catheters available to choose from, many of which come in both silicone and latex. Choosing the material for your catheters tend to depend on personal preference and doctor recommendation. If you’re allergic to latex, using silicone catheters is required to avoid potentially life-threatening reactions. For those without allergies, discuss your options with your doctor and consider trying them both to determine which material you prefer. There is also an option to use a red rubber catheter for intermittent catheterization. Your doctor can go over your options in detail to help you make a more informed decision.

Whether you need to use a catheter for one week or one year, it’s important that you have the proper supplies to care for your catheters and perform intermittent self-catheterization. Byram Healthcare has a range of catheters to help you manage your conditions and live a happier, healthier life.