Surviving the Winter with an Ostomy: A Guide
Winter time can be a daunting and challenging time when you have an ostomy. Worries can focus around how routines change with the season, what you’ll be able to eat and drink during the festive period, whether you will be prepared for the ramping up of social activities and ensuring you have supplies to see you through and how to cope during a period of time when there can be limited access to medical professionals.
In this guide, I’ll be looking at sharing my own advice and some common tips and tricks to help make the Winter period enjoyable and relaxing.
Hope you enjoy!
Keeping Well During the Winter
Ensure your medicine cabinet is fully stocked
It tends to be that as soon as there is a dramatic change in the weather; when it gets suddenly cold, misty, foggy and generally damper, that bugs come out and attack. Avoiding bugs can be neigh impossible so being prepared for having something is better than a cure. Keeping stock of basic cough and cold remedies, as well as plenty of Over The Counter (OTC) pain relief and throat remedies can help too.
Be aware that some OTC medication might not be comparable with your particular Ostomy so please ask for advice if you are unsure. Also, these medications can also caught an upset stomach, which might incense your output or cause looser output than normal.
I’ve found that keeping hydrated in winter is more of a challenge than in the summer. It is hot almost all the time during the summer, so I know and can feel my body needing more water. However, it’s not always evidence in the colder months, and usually takes a while for me to realise. I keep a water bottle with me when I go out, to help remind me to take drinks more often, especially if I am out shopping and unable to take a break.
As the temperatures drop there can be up to a 40% decrease in the level of thirst you feel, therefore making it easier to become dehydration. Whilst it’s very obvious in the hotter months to be aware of your thirst and the moisture we lose, we still loose it when it cold out. From sweating lightly to the visible moisture from our breath when it’s very cold; dehydration is a serious problem for those who are under 5, elderly or without a colon. Keeping hydrated also has the additional benefits (see right)
Keeping your skin moisturised in cold weather
This applies to both your face as well as your peristome skin. With a lowered level of hydration, my skin tends to suffer in the cold weather, even my peristomal skin – despite being covered for 99% of the time – will become dry. I use a very light moisturiser on my abdomen after a bath or shower, and I will never change my bag after doing this step because I can’t guarantee my skin will be clear of any moisturiser and could result in my bag’s baseplate not sticking.
Manage your Stoma Supplies
Do not let them get too cold.
As a general rule of thumb, Ostomy Supplies should be kept at an ambient temperature all year round to avoid any issues with products failing to work. However, sometimes this isn’t known until the weather changes. I keep my supplies in a cupboard in my bedroom – away from the direct sunlight and away from anything that would cause any damp. I regular check my supplies too – when I order new items etc – and make sure a ‘stock rotation’ is done so that products that need using first do so. And yes, products will have an expiration date on them! This is sometimes just down to manufacturing preferences but it always observant to keep note of particular items such as wipes and pastes as older ones won’t give you the best results.
Unfortunately, you can not predict when you will catch a bug or become unwell, so it’s always handy to keep some supplies in reserve, away from your main supply so you don’t count them in when reordering. As well as keeping a small surplus, it is always wise to order ahead of running very low of supplies. You can never predict how long an order can take to be approved, be in stock and delivered to you; there are just too many variables. Bad weather can also affect this too and as we know, it’s hard to always plan ahead with the British weather.
If you are technologically savvy, you can always use an app to keep on top of your supplies. For me, I use the OstoBuddy app – it has a lot of great features beyond keeping a tab on your usage and supply count, you can also keep notes, add photos and keep a track of your changes. I found this very useful in the beginning of my journey with an Ostomy and is something I still do – not to the detail as previous – to this day.
Get your Flu Jab
Please please please get your flu jab! For some of those with a stoma, you might also be immunosuppressant or live with a chronic illness; which can make you more susceptible to seasonal bugs. Having the flu is not great for anyone who is health, so it hits those who are unwell harder and can last longer.
Just a few tips here:
- Seasonal bugs can wreak havoc on your stoma output and thus your supplies, so it’s important to be prepared to be prepared.
- Make sure you order your repeat prescriptions ahead of time. This will include your appliances and medications!
- Check your GP opening hours during the flu season – most will offer a drop in clinic for flu jabs so are more flexible than just an appointment.
- You can also have your jab done at pharmacies but this might incur a charge.
- Also, it is also handy to know of the alternatives to your GP if you do need medical assistance – the demand for GP appointments increase during the winter, thus making it harder to see someone. Your local NHS Trust will provide information about this, and GP surgery are now encouraged to promote this within their buildings.
This is by no means a definitive guide to how to ‘survive’ the winter when you have an Ostomy. I’d suspect that there are many more handy tips from veteran ostomates within the community that I haven’t included; because at the moment, I am not a veteran! What is included here, is my personal experiences and is not the be and end all of how to manage having a stoma during the cold months.
For me, I have always enjoyed the Winter more than the summer because my IBD would always flare during the summer, but I have found some aspects of the winter tricky with an ostomy. I had the flu for my first winter with my stoma and it knocked me sideward. Most of my writing has come from what I’ve gone through and what I would have done different if faced with that again. Plus, it is includes some basic and simple advice.
Do you have any questions or queries? Or just want to share your own experiences? You can leave me a reply here or leave comments via my social media accounts – on Twitter, find my blog page on Facebook and over on Instagram
Sources & Further Reading:
Met Office – How Cold Weather Affects Your Health
NHS – Keep Warm, Keep Well
Cleveland Clinic – 6 Ways Winter Affect Your Health
EveryDay Health – Crohn’s Disease and Seasonal Changes
InflammatoryBowelDisease – Change of Seasons as an IBDer