The Dangers of Holding in Your Pee, According to Science


Maybe you drank too much water before sitting down for a meeting. Maybe it was a long car trip where no one else had to go and you didn't want to request a bathroom break. Maybe you guzzled a 54-ounce soda during Titanic and decided to tough out the last 45 minutes.

However it's happened, you've probably found yourself flexing your pelvic muscles to act as a dam against a tsunami of urine until you had the right opportunity to relieve yourself. And you may have wondered what—if any—damage you were risking in denying your body a chance to remove all that waste. Will your bladder explode? Will you pee your pants? Are you inviting permanent and embarrassing pee-related trauma to your body?

"As a one-time thing, here or there, the majority of people with normal urinary tracts are probably not doing any harm in the long run," Howard Adler, medical director of the prostate care program and clinical associate professor of urology at Stony Brook Medicine, tells Mental Floss.

The key, Adler notes, is "here or there." The average number of times people need to urinate in a day ranges from four to seven and depends on your hydration level. If you are a chronic pee pauper who holds it in several times a week, you're flirting with a few uncomfortable consequences.

One of the more well-known categories of people who voluntarily hold in their urine are nurses, who are often so busy on long eight to 12 hour shifts that they don't take the time to relieve themselves. Experts have dubbed the habit “infrequent voiding syndrome” (and it's also known as having "nurse's bladder"). A 1991 study of 72 female nurses found that those who habitually avoided the bathroom had actually enlarged their bladder capacity, from the norm of 500 milliliters up to 1100 milliliters, or from about 16 ounces of liquid to 37 ounces. (One water bottle is 16 ounces.)

No other adverse effects were noted, although over time, stretching the bladder to elephant-sized proportions (metaphorically speaking; an actual elephant bladder holds about 42 gallons) could eventually result in urination changes: Retaining that much urine can weaken pelvic floor muscles, making it harder to maintain control over the urge to go. Rarely, infrequent voiders might also develop a urinary tract infection or kidney damage from retaining urine; if they drink less to avoid using the bathroom, they might potentially develop kidney stones.

But can the combination of a Big Gulp and a highway logjam create an actual medical emergency? Adler says that while it's "theoretically possible" that a bladder could burst from too much urine, it probably won't unless the organ is damaged from outside forces. Someone drinking too much and then getting into a traffic accident could perforate their bladder during a collision, for example. It's also possible you could pee your pants, but it's infrequent.

Adler stresses that infrequent voiders are typically avoiding relief for eight hours or more, so a long movie or two-hour meeting probably isn't going to do any damage. People tend to make 1–2.7 ounces of urine per hour. Even if you're guzzling water, it'll be some time before your bladder is at max capacity and you're in pain. Hold it if you need to, but don't make a habit of it. 

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.

You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Tear Gas vs. Pepper Spray: What’s the Difference?

This is probably pepper spray.
This is probably pepper spray.
Siberian Photographer/iStock via Getty Images

Pepper spray and tear gas are both non-lethal irritants that cause extreme burning of the eyes, nose, and throat—but there are a few key differences between the two substances.

For one, they’re created from different chemicals. According to biohazard remediation company Aftermath, the active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum, which comes from the compound that makes hot peppers so hot: capsaicin. If you’ve ever accidentally rubbed your eyes after chopping a chili pepper, you’ve gotten a very tiny taste of what it’s like to be sprayed with pepper spray. Tear gas, on the other hand, contains 0-Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS), 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CN), or a similar artificial chemical. At room temperature, both of those chemicals are powdery solids, not gases—they’re mixed with liquids or gases so they can be dispersed in the air.

Delivery methods differ, too. Pepper spray often comes in an aerosol can, which shoots it in a stream, a mist, or some other relatively direct path (though it’s also available as a gel or foam). As the Berkeley Science Review explains, tear gas is mainly dispersed with a grenade, which releases the substance over a wide area when it explodes. Since the grenades can cover so much ground, law enforcement officers are more likely to use tear gas to try to break up a crowd, and civilians are more likely to carry pepper spray as a personal safety measure.

The immediate effects of the two substances are similar—burning sensation in mucous membranes, rise in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, runny nose, etc.—but tear gas can also cause nausea and vomiting in higher concentrations.

For more on tear gas, including what to do if you’re exposed to it, head here.

[h/t Aftermath]