Sun, Sea, Sand…and Stomas!
Date: 25 July 2019 Category: Advice
Top Tips for Travelling with a stoma
Now that it's summer, the sun is out and it's the perfect time to hit the beach! Following stoma surgery, something that should be as fun and relaxing as a holiday may be daunting, especially when having to take a new stoma into account. With enough preparation and forethought, you should have no problem having that much needed getaway in the sun with as little trouble as possible.
Preparation is Key
Going anywhere far from home is going to leave you away from easy-to-access stoma supplies, so packing enough is vital to make sure you're prepared for the worst in case it comes. Work out how much you would need for the trip, and pack extra supplies. This is usually best practice to ensure you are covered for any leaks or any other issues that may occur whilst you are away. Hot weather may mean your bags or seals don’t stick as well as usual if you are sweating more for example or spending more time in the pool or hot tub. An upset tummy due to different water and/or local cuisine may also increase your stoma output or make it more watery, which in turn may increase your product usage.
When travelling by plane, split your supplies between your carry-on and your luggage to ensure you still have supplies even if your suitcases are delayed or lost in transit. Remember you will not be allowed to carry your cutting scissors onto the plane, so they must be stored in your checked-in luggage beforehand; or you can call/email in and use Medilink's personal tailored cutting service to get all your stoma supplies cut to your fit ready for your trip. Also, it is a good idea to take a variety of sizes of bag for all the different holiday activities you may do: a smaller bag for swimming, and maybe a larger bag if you intend on going walking round the town or doing some hiking.
Before you travel, phone the airport you are travelling from to review their policies and to ask if they offer 'hidden disability' lanyards or identifiers that will communicate to the staff there that you may need different treatment at times. Also, requesting a letter from your GP and/or requesting our Medilink® Travel Certificate which describes your condition in different languages, will help smooth out the process of going through the security measures and take away some of the stress those can produce. We also offer a handy wallet-size ‘No Waiting’ Medilink® Priority Card, which states the urgency to use toilet facilities due to your medical condition. We now provide these in different languages, should you need to use them abroad (these both the Travel Certificate and ‘No Waiting’ card can be requested by by calling Freephone 0800 626388 or emailing email@example.com).
Travel insurance is also a valuable piece of preparation to do before a holiday. Make sure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions when applying for this as some insurers won't cover them. If you are travelling to a country in the EEA (European Economic Area), or in Switzerland, you can obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as well as your health insurance as it will entitle you to free medical treatment or a reduced cost in case of accidents or if you fall ill in most European member states.
Whilst out and about in the sun, it is even more important for you to stay hydrated. It is important to make sure you drink plenty of fluid such as water or non- fizzy juice, which you might need to be careful of depending on where you travel to. For safety, boil water you get from the taps if the local water upsets your stomach and try to avoid ice cubes unless you know they come from a safe source.
If you don't want to boil water, try to stick to bottled water, and use this to clean the area around your stoma if the local water is causing sensitivities. If you're going into especially hot climates, you may need to replace water for drinks that are high in electrolytes to make sure you are as hydrated as possible. Pack rehydration solutions such as Dioralyte that you can easily take with you.
Please remember to stay hydrated during any long journeys, your Stoma Nurse or Medilink can provide you with a handy hydration chart that gives more guidance on this.
When you're on holiday relaxing, it is common that you may want to drink an alcoholic beverage, but in higher temperatures you need to be even more careful about dehydration than when you are at home. Keep a rule of drinking at least one glass of water or a suitable substitute every two glasses of alcohol to stop yourself from becoming dehydrated. Also be aware that alcohol can increase your stoma output and loosen the consistency for those with a colostomy or ileostomy. Please remember that alcohol does not mix well with certain medications therefore if you have any doubts, please check with your GP or pharmacist before travelling.
Flying can be a stressful process, especially if you have a stoma, therefore preplanning is essential to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. If you have a long flight, ensure you have applied a fresh bag before leaving home and empty it just before boarding. Some Ostomates who have a loose faecal output may wish to take Loperamide/Immodium before the journey however this is completely up to you. Please speak to your Stoma Nurse about this if you have any concerns.
We recommend you do not skip meals, and maybe carry a bag of jelly babies or marshmallows to help to thicken your stool if necessary. Sometimes flying can result in a lower pressure, which may cause more air to inflate your bag. You can wear a drainable bag rather than a closed variety and empty the excess wind in the toilet if necessary. There are also stool thickening sachets available to insert into the bag before flying that may help with a more liquid output or extra wind. Speak to your Stoma Nurse about trying these options.
When travelling long distances by car, those with a urostomy may choose to attach a leg bag or night drainage bag. Ask your Stoma Nurse or Medilink Care Team to provide you with a Radar key which will ensure you have access to locked public toilets wherever you are in the UK. Whilst driving, never leave your ostomy supplies in the boot of your car as they may become too warm which can affect the quality of your products. Keep a small toilet bag with a few supplies in the glove compartment for example and change these regularly so that they don’t become damaged with heat changes over time. Medilink can provide you with a wallet style bag that can hold enough products for one bag change. This can be carried discreetly in a pocket giving peace of mind.
Swimming with a Stoma
All stoma bags are designed to allow you to enjoy your usual activities and this includes swimming. There are many companies who make swimwear especially for Ostomates however these are not essential. Choose a patterned costume or swim shorts rather than a plain block colour and add a sarong or alternative cover up if this will help with your confidence. You can of course choose to expose your tummy with the bag on view, as the stoma is nothing to be embarrassed about. Hot tubs can cause problems occasionally, therefore ensure you do not stay in them any longer than the recommended time and have a spare bag to change once you are dry. Sunscreen may make your skin greasy, so be careful when applying your bag, extra flange extenders or security strips may be a useful tool to use.
Travelling or going on holiday should be an exciting adventure. Planning beforehand will remove any stress and ensure you have a lovely time. Your Stoma Nurse is also a great support and can provide written and verbal travel advice, so do please contact your local nurse who will be happy to help.
*This blog post was written in collaboration with a Salts Medilink Stoma Care Nurse.*