What are Hydrophilic Catheters?

July 27,2021 |
Man getting ready in his bathroom

The process of urinary catheterization is medically straightforward for both men and women. The first few times of self-catheterizing may present a struggle, but after a while it gets easier. In an effort to increase comfort levels and uphold the varying needs of those undergoing catheterization, there are several different types of catheters available to use. While straight tip and coudé catheters are used frequently, hydrophilic catheters are now being recommended more often. They allow for easier insertion and removal, reduce discomfort, and can even lower the chances of infection. Here, we’ll answer the question, “what are hydrophilic catheters?” and discuss some of the subsequent benefits of using them. 

Understanding Hydrophilic Catheters

The word hydrophilic is a term that means “water-loving.” It’s used in both science and medicine to describe something that quickly and easily binds with water, often leading to a certain chemical reaction. Hydrophilic catheters are covered with a unique polymer coating that reacts with water to create a slippery byproduct. Hydrophilic catheters therefore are self-lubricating, thus eliminating the need for lubricating gels when performing intermittent self-catheterization. Due to the chemical byproduct of the polymer and water, friction is substantially reduced and there is less risk of damaging the urethra.

In every other sense, hydrophilic catheters are just like other types of catheters. They’re a hollow, flexible tube that connects to a drainage bag or can be emptied directly into a toilet or liquid waste receptacle. They’re used to alleviate varying symptoms of urinary conditions, aid in recovery, and as post-op for certain surgeries. Hydrophilic catheters come in both straight tip and coudé tip to maximize individual comfort.

Who are Hydrophilic Catheters Best for?

While hydrophilic catheters can be used by anyone, they’re most beneficial for those with heightened sensitivity and those who find self-catheterization painful or uncomfortable. Due to the pre-lubricated tubing, the process is easier, and the tubing is always hydrated evenly to improve insertion without excess discomfort. Since the coating is integrated into the design, it remains intact throughout the duration of insertion into the urethra and during removal.

There are several reasons why someone would need to undergo catheterization. If your doctor inserts a catheter during a hospital stay or surgery, hydrophilic catheters aren’t commonly used. This is simply because of the sterile environment and availability of local anesthesia. For those patients who are using an indwelling or foley catheter, hydrophilic catheters aren’t necessary as oftentimes, once removed, they can return to using the bathroom on their own.

With that being said, hydrophilic catheters are best for people who will need to use intermittent self-catheterization. Since most people go through about four to five catheter changes per day, using hydrophilic catheters can help reduce irritation, infection, and discomfort. Almost all hydrophilic catheters are single use, so these are not a good option for those looking to use reusable products. However, it is important to note that due to the general features of hydrophilic catheters, they can be substantially more expensive. If they come with antibiotics inside—which requires a doctor’s prescription—the price rises.

If you’re interested in using hydrophilic catheters, talk to your doctor about your options. You may decide to use a combination of both, switching to hydrophilic catheters later in the day. Many people who try hydrophilic catheters find that the benefits outweigh the costs and transition to using them full time.

Benefits of Using a Hydrophilic Catheter

The main reason that hydrophilic catheters were created was to offer those who need to perform intermittent self-catheterization a more comfortable way of doing so. If you need to use catheterization to manage a urologic condition, over time the continual insertion and removal can lead to irritation, inflammation, damage, and increased pain. However, due to the inherent makeup of a hydrophilic catheter, the entire process is easier, more hygienic, and results in fewer injuries over time.

More Convenience

Since hydrophilic catheters are often packaged with their own sterile water, it leads to a much more convenient catheterization process. You can easily use a hydrophilic catheter in public restrooms without having to carry lubrication gel with you or go through the process of applying it after you’ve touched the stall door. If you’re unable to use them all the time, having hydrophilic catheters available for when you need to use the bathroom away from home is a great way to avoid problems in public.

The packaging makes activation easy. In most instances, all you need to do is squeeze or tear the pouch so that the sterile water enters the packaging of the catheter and activates it.

Improved Hygiene

Since you don’t have to touch the tubing when applying lubricating gel, hydrophilic catheters are also far more hygienic. Their design was formulated so that you don’t actually have to touch the tubing when performing clean intermittent self-catheterization. Many brands come with an insertion aid, which allows you to perform the procedure without ever touching the catheter itself. While you should still prioritize washing your hands whenever you’re inserting and removing a catheter, you greatly reduce the chance of bacteria, viruses, or germs from causing any problems.

If you were to introduce bacteria, germs, or viruses into the urethra through poor hygienic practices, a urinary tract infection will inevitably follow. Hydrophilic catheters reduce the risk of UTIs and other complications.

Fewer Urethral Injuries

The repetitive process of intermittent self-catheterization can lead to urethral injury if the tubing is not properly lubricated. Since hydrophilic catheters are coated evenly with the polymer, they are more slippery than a typical lubricated catheter. This drastically reduces the friction caused by insertion and removal, thus reducing pain, inflammation, and injury over time. Using hydrophilic catheters has also been shown to reduce the chances of hematuria during self-catheterization.

There are plenty of benefits associated with using a hydrophilic catheter and very few studies that present any downsides. The biggest disadvantage is the price difference, but as mentioned, many people find that it’s worth the investment.

Activating a Hydrophilic Catheter

When purchasing hydrophilic catheters, they come prepackaged. They may already be activated in a pouch of sterile water, or they may come with a package of sterile water to use for activation.

To activate hydrophilic catheters, first you need to break the seal between the catheter and the sterile water. Instructions as to how to do this properly will be on the packaging. Next, shake the solution so that it enters the catheter compartment. Some brands have small hooks or adhesive strips so you can hang the catheter upside down. If they don’t, simply turn it upside down yourself and hold it there for 30 seconds. This allows the catheter to fully hydrate and maximize the reaction.

How to Use a Hydrophilic Catheter

Inserting a hydrophilic catheter is like inserting other types of catheters, aside from a few steps. First, it’s imperative that you wash your hands thoroughly. While many hydrophilic catheters utilize “no touch” insertion, there is always a risk of contamination. Next, activate your hydrophilic catheter following the instructions on the package. As mentioned, this usually just requires combining the water pack with the catheter package and shaking it thoroughly to coat the catheter. Then, turn the catheter upside down and let it soak for 30 seconds to ensure that lubrication is maximized. Once activated, open the film, and perform the steps of self-catheterization.

For males, gently insert the catheter into the urethral opening on the tip of the penis. Continue to push the catheter into the urethra slowly until you notice urine drainage. Once urine flows, continue pushing only 2.5 centimeters more to ensure proper positioning near the bladder.

For females, use a mirror to find the urinary meatus and gently insert the catheter into your urethra. Continue to push the catheter into the urethra slowly until you notice urine drainage, which should be around 3 inches into the urethra. Once urine flows, continue pushing only about 1 inch more to ensure proper positioning near the bladder.

Hydrophilic catheters should be discarded after every use. For high-quality, hydrophilic catheters that can be discreetly delivered to your door, browse Byram Healthcare’s catheter supplies today.