Dealing with a Cold or Flu: Ostomy Tips

Dealing with a Cold or the Flu- Ostomy Tips header

The cold and flu are part of life, and everyone will get one or the other at some point in the year. While there are ways of helping to prevent these, once you’ve got them, you’re fighting for the next week.

Having an ostomy poses some additional challenges that I’d like to address in this post.  Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor, and I’m merely sharing my own experience of having to deal with illness with an ostomy.

Note: These tips are geared towards colostomates and ileostomates, although urostomates may benefit from some of this advice, too.

Rest and Hydration Are Top Priorities

If you have the flu, you likely won’t have enough energy to do much, but it’s really important that you get as much rest as possible to help speed up recovery.

I’ve used the following tips when I’m sick:

  • Find a quiet room, out of the main traffic area in your home. While sleeping on the sofa may be easier than going to bed, you’ll probably be more distracted.
  • Use “noise-makers” or gentle music. I love listening to the sound of rain or white noise, and keeping a “noise-maker” by the side of your bed can be really helpful in getting you to sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed hungry/thirsty.  While you may not be able to eat much (or anything) when you’re feeling sick, I find that trying to sleep when I’m thirsty is a near impossibility, so I have a few sips of water before even trying to close my eyes.
  • Sleep in layers. Chances are that you’ll have a fever or your body temps will fluctuate while your body fights off the flu, but I find it helpful to wear several layers of clothing that I can add or remove easily to control the temperatures under the sheets.
  • Sleep on top of a towel. If you’re sweating a lot, it may help to sleep on a towel that you can swap out with a fresh one when it gets wet.
  • If I’m coughing, sneezing or even vomiting/dry heaving a lot, I will put my hand over my stoma and apply pressure on it during those instances. This can prevent complications such as hernias from developing due to the force on your abdominal muscles. A hernia prevention belt/band will be handy in this situation.  Thanks for the reminder Chasity!

Some Tips for Staying Hydrated When Sick:

  • Water is good, but you should include electrolytes too; having a sports drink may help if you can’t make your own oral hydration solution. This is especially important if you have an ileostomy, as it’s already going to be a challenge to absorb electrolytes.
  • Warm fluids like tea or clear soup/broth can be both soothing and help with sore throats.
  • Don’t use the same cup/mug/water bottle throughout the day. Change your beverage container often to avoid reinfecting yourself.
  • If it helps, eat water-rich fruits and vegetables. This only works if you’re able to eat during this time, but citrus, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. will help give you both liquids and nutrients.
  • Drink until your urine is clear. If you have an ileostomy, keeping hydrated will already be a challenge, but illness will push your requirements for fluids even higher, so it’s essential to drink enough that your urine is running clear.

I’ve got a full guide to keeping hydrated when you’ve got an ostomy, which you can check out HERE.

Have a Supplies Kit Ready

It’s important to be prepared in case you have any leaks or need to replace your appliance when you’re sick. I had a leak right in the middle of having strep throat, but having prepared beforehand really helped to make changing my appliance easy.

This kit can be the travel kit you may already use when leaving the house, or a kit that you’ve put together for your regular appliance changes.

Prepare for Your Body to Change

One of the things that happen when I get sick, is that my output changes to liquid as my solid food intake drops.  This can make leaks more prone to happen, but it also makes emptying my pouch more difficult.

I make use of gelling products to solidify my output and to make it easier to manage.

I’ve also noticed that the odor of my output changes significantly when I’m sick, and it smells less like poo and more like bile (which makes me gag).  This is a great time to get your favorite pouch deodorant and put it to use, especially if you find that your bag odor changes to something that’ll aggravate your nausea.

While these changes are expected, pay attention to how frequently (or infrequently) you’re emptying your pouch – if you find that you are hardly emptying it, that may be a sign that you aren’t taking in enough fluids.

Know When to See a Doctor

I get it, going to see a doctor when you’re sick isn’t fun, but sometimes a cold or flu might be more than that.

If you have an ostomy or an auto-immune disease, it’s best to make sure that your family doctor is kept in the loop, just in case lab work needs to be checked.

Closing Thoughts

Being sick isn’t fun, but with a little TLC and time, you’ll be better in no time.

If you have an ostomy, it’s extra important to keep an eye on your hydration and monitor your output.

Question: Do you have any tips to share with dealing with a cold or flu?

8 thoughts on “Dealing with a Cold or Flu: Ostomy Tips”

  1. Have you ever had issues with your stoma or abdomen swelling from coughing when you have a cold/flu? I’ve just gotten through my first year with my ileostomy and have had no problems until this cold I’ve come down with.

  2. Tea with lemon, honey, and (very important) a few slices of fresh ginger. The tea and lemon soothes my sore throat, which enables me to eat more easily. The honey helps stabilize my sugar levels. And the fresh ginger curbs my nausea.

  3. I had a cold/respiratory issue last April and it made me cough and gag for a month which in turn caused my stoma to protrude. Do you ever hear of anyone else having issues with coughing? I held my hand over my stoma like my nurse instructed but later on in May I had a prolapse that just continually got worse until I had to have a stoma revision in Sept. That being said I worry about getting sick this year and coughing.

    • You bring up a very good point! Coughing (even dry heaving) CAN cause protrusions and even hernias! I have a habit of even holding in my sneezes, which is superbad!

      Applying firm pressure over your appliance when you feel a cough/sneeze coming on is one way to prevent issues.

      I’m going to add that info this post.

      • Yes I have just, in the past 6 months, learned to allow myself to sneeze. It is much better bc I don’t even feel it now in my abdomen. Where as before it hurt so bad trying to fight or hold in my sneezes.

        I hope I can keep my stoma just the way she is this year with no prolapses. I do NOT want another stoma revision or surgery if I can help it.

        I appreciate you replying and if you ever come across anything on prolapse stomas please share.

        As always thanks for your blog and videos.


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