Stomas are tubes that connect the body to the outside world. They allow waste to pass from inside the body into a bag or pouch attached to the skin, and the bag is emptied periodically, usually once every two days.
Showers and baths are important parts of everyday life and help you to feel more comfortable and hygienic.
They can, however, become problematic if you have a stoma – you may find showers and baths more uncomfortable because of the pressure caused by the water hitting the stoma, and you may have concerns about the risk of infection.
To help, we have put together everything you need to know about showering, bathing, and maintaining good hygiene with a stoma, to keep you in the best possible shape.
What Is A Stoma?
A stoma is a tube connecting your body to the outside world, allowing waste to be removed. The stoma is made up of an opening on the surface of the skin, through which waste passes out of the body.
It’s usually located at the end of a part of the digestive system called the bowel, but it could also be connected to another part of the digestive tract such as the bladder or vagina.
There are different types of stoma:
- Colostomy – the most common type of stoma. Waste is collected in a bag that hangs below the belly button. This is known as a colostomy bag.
- Ileostomy – waste is collected in a bag attached to the ileum, one of the last sections of the small intestine before the large intestine. This is known as an ileostomy bag.
- Urostomy – waste is collected directly into the urethra, which empties into a bag attached to the urinary bladder. This is known as urostomy.
The size of the stoma depends on how much waste there is in the body, and whether it needs to be emptied regularly. If you’re not sure what type of stoma you have, talk to your doctor or nurse.
How Does Your Body Work With A Stoma?
When healthy and operating as it should, your body works like this: food goes down the esophagus, then travels via the stomach to the duodenum where it mixes with bile produced in the liver.
From here, waste products travel through the intestines and colon to the rectum, where they mix with feces, and these mixtures are pushed out of the body through the anus.
When you have a stoma, some of these steps are altered. For example, when waste comes out of the body through your stoma, it doesn’t go straight to the toilet. Instead, it collects in a pouch or bag that sits under the skin near the stoma. This is called a collecting device.
Your stoma will normally collect waste for around three hours after eating, so you’ll need to empty it during this time. After three hours, the waste starts to smell, and you may notice blood coming out of the stoma.
If this happens, you should call your healthcare professional immediately.
You might find yourself having to empty your stoma more often than usual, especially if you eat foods high in fiber or fat. These foods take longer to pass through your body and can cause your stoma to swell.
Eating more than usual, or eating too quickly can also mean that you need to increase the frequency with which your stoma is emptied.
Can I Take A Shower With A Stoma?
One of the main concerns that many people have when they learn that they are to be fitted with a stoma is how to maintain basic hygiene, including showering and bathing.
Many people worry about getting soap and water inside their stoma and causing irritation.
However, taking a shower or bath isn’t likely to make your stoma any worse. In fact, washing your stoma with warm water has been shown to reduce inflammation and help it heal faster.
If you do decide to wash your stoma, remember that chemical-heavy soap and overly hot water can irritate it – it is best to use milder cleansers such as baby shampoo, or try using a product specially designed for cleaning stomas.
Also, avoid scrubbing your stoma with a rough brush; instead, gently cleanse it by wiping it with a soft cloth dipped in lukewarm water.
If you need to bathe and are worried, ask your care team for advice.
They may recommend using a specialized stomal bath or suggest using a plastic bag over your stoma while you shower – this can differ depending on the type of stoma that you have fitted, and whereabouts you are in your treatment or care plan.
On the whole, however, there should not be any issues with taking a warm bath while you have a stoma fitted, and this can be a great way to help you relax and unwind.
How Can I Keep My Stoma Clean?
It’s important to keep your stoma clean at all times. The first thing to do is check that your stoma looks normal. Your doctor or nurse will usually give you instructions on how to look after your stoma, but they may also tell you what you should expect from it.
If you don’t know what to look for, never be afraid to ask your healthcare professional for guidance – they will be happy to help.
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about your stoma – remember that it is just part of life now and that you are not alone.
People who have had a stoma for some time say that they’ve learned to accept it and that they enjoy being able to share their experiences with others.
Having a stoma fitted does not have to slow you down in any way – with a little practice, it will simply become part of everyday life.
Keeping your stoma, and yourself, clean and hygienic will help you to feel better, improve your quality of life, and keep you healthy for years to come.