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Summertime Tips for People with Ostomies

by Jan Colwell, RN, MS, CWOCN, FAAN

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As summer sets in, the weather becomes warmer, the sun a bit hotter, and we may look forward to participation in sports, such as swimming, cycling, tennis, and traveling. However, people with ostomies may have some concerns about participating in summer activities. Some people may worry that the pouch seal may become compromised when they sweat or are physically active. You may need to make some minor changes to ensure that your pouch seal will remain intact, but having an ostomy should not prevent you from participating in the summer activities you enjoy.

Ostomy Products
The adhesive seal on the pouching system keeps the pouch in place, preventing skin damage and urine or stool leakage. The seal generally remains strong and intact for about four days. After four days, the seal may start to loosen. On average, most people change their pouch every four days to prevent accidental dislodgement of the seal.

If you are concerned about your ostomy seal during the summer, many options are available to help. Some adhesives, called extended-wear adhesives, are manufactured to provide a stronger seal in the presence of moisture. They are used when a person has a high volume of liquid stoma output, as they do not wear down quite as quickly as the standard-wear adhesives. Accessory products that can be used to enhance a seal are also available. Products such as skin barrier paste can be used to caulk the edges of the skin barrier. A liquid skin barrier can be used to keep the skin free from excessive moisture. Your ostomy nurse can help you decide which of these products might work for you.

The majority of pouching systems have a water-resistant adhesive around the outside.

Author of Article photo

Jan Colwell

Summer Activities
One concern of some people with an ostomy is water sports. Some express fears of swimming or engaging in other water activities, thinking that the adhesive seal of the pouch will be adversely affected. The majority of pouching systems have a water-resistant adhesive around the outside to prevent moisture from loosening the seal. If a pouch does not have a water-resistant seal, a frame of water-resistant tape can be placed around the edge of the pouch adhesive. This will seal all edges, allowing you to keep the seal intact during water activities.

Swimwear and concealment may be another concern. For women, swimwear with some stretch material in the abdominal area is recommended. This type of suit will keep the pouching system flat and supported during physical activity. A one-piece suit with a pattern and a tankini are both good choices. For men, swimwear with an inner support garment will keep the pouch supported against the abdomen and provide concealment. If the stoma is above the swimwear waistband, a swim shirt can provide concealment.

For some people, swimming may seem daunting. If this is the case for you, consider a “trial run.” Wearing a swimsuit, fill the bathtub with warm water that will cover the entire abdomen. Sit in the bathtub for at least 30 minutes to test the adhesive of the pouch under water. When out of the tub, look in the mirror to see if the pouch is obvious under the now-wet bathing suit. If in doubt, consult with a family member to help determine how the suit looks. This trial should help you see that the pouch adhesive will remain intact after being under water and that the pouch is not visible under most bathing suits.

Traveling
It is important for a person with an ostomy to carry supplies when traveling for more than three days. Two to three complete changes of ostomy supplies should always be carried when traveling.

If possible, pack your ostomy supplies in your carry-on luggage, as checked baggage can be lost. There are airline restrictions relating to carry-on luggage that might affect ostomy products. While the Federal Aviation Administration now allows ostomy scissors to be carried onto an airplane, when traveling out of the United States, precut the pouching system prior to carrying ostomy products on the plane, leaving the scissors in the checked luggage.

For prolonged travel with residence at one place, consider having your products shipped from a vendor with that service. Avoid storing ostomy products in a hot room, or hot car, as the adhesive may melt, leaving the product unusable.

Summer fun is definitely an option for a person with an ostomy. There is no reason you cannot participate in swimming, running, or other warm weather activities. With a few preparations, you can let the summer fun begin!

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Jan Colwell is an advanced practice nurse in the department of Ostomy Care Services at the University of Chicago Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.