Ostomy Tips and Tricks

How to manage day-to-day life after having ileostomy or colostomy surgery

There is a pretty steep learning curve for people who have had ostomy surgery—not only in dealing with the physical aftermath of the surgery itself, but in learning an entirely new way of taking care of oneself. Whether the reason for your ostomy is Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer, the challenges are equally daunting. Your ET nurse has likely given you lots of instruction on how to care for your stoma and change your appliance, but what about the finer points of living life as a new baggie?

1

Avoiding Backsplash

Mother with Stoma

 HRAUN/Getty Images

If you find that emptying your bag results in splashing of toilet water, try flushing just as you empty. Emptying into the bowl as the water rushes down may help prevent backsplash. Another technique is to try sitting on the toilet backward in order to empty the bag. Lay some toilet paper down over the water and up onto the front of the toilet seat. Empty down onto the paper instead of directly into the water.

2

Removing Hair Around Your Stoma

Most people have at least some fine hair on their abdomen, and some may have longer or coarser hair. The hair may not only impede the wafer from sticking to your skin, but it may also get pulled when you remove your appliance. To avoid this problem, talk with your ET nurse about the best hair-removal methods.

A common method to remove the hair is to use an electric shaver. This has the advantage of not using a blade. As a result, cutting the skin or damaging the stoma is less likely. If you remove your appliance before a shower, you may be able to gently shave the area using plain soap and with a razor that doesn't have lubricants. Just once over the skin should suffice. Don't irritate your skin with multiple passes. 

If your skin is broken or compromised in any way, or you have an open wound, don't shave. Consult your ET nurse instead.

3

Change on an Empty Stomach

The best time to change without any output is when you first wake up. If you stop eating a few hours before bedtime and get a full night's sleep, output should slow down enough for you to get a change done. If you must eat upon waking but before a change, try a nutrient-packed food that will raise your blood sugar but not cause any immediate output, such as a spoon of peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg. 

4

Change After a Shower

One way to change your appliance is to do so as part of your showering routine. You can remove the appliance while standing in the tub, and then take your shower bagless. If you change first thing upon waking, the output from your stoma should be minimal. Re-attach your appliance after stepping out of the shower. This can help you get extra time out of your appliance because you are not showering while wearing it. In addition, exposing your skin to air helps it stay healthier.

5

Rinsing out Your Appliance

Some people like to rinse out their appliance with clean water after emptying, or whenever it is convenient. This can be especially helpful when solids cling to the inside. Use a squeezable bottle, syringe, dropper, or even a turkey baster to gently squirt a little clean water inside the appliance, swish it out, and empty again.

6

Trick for a Lumpy Belly

Not every belly is perfectly flat, especially ones that have been through several surgeries. If you have trouble fitting your wafer over a bump or a lump, try making a small cut on the outside of the wafer, towards the inside hole. This lends a little more flexibility to the wafer. Just take care not to make too many cuts or make them too big, as this could result in leaks.

7

Saline Wipes

ET nurses will tell you to stay away from baby wipes because they contain chemicals that can leave a film on the skin and prevent the wafer from sticking properly. Even wipes that claim to be all-natural still may cause problems. The best thing to use is a washcloth and plain water, but in a pinch, a sterile saline wipe can be used on the skin if it's truly needed. Sterile wipes can be found in medical supply stores.

8

Try New Products for Free

Many manufacturers of ostomy appliances will send you a free trial of their products. Try calling or emailing manufacturers and ask them if they have any programs for ostomates to try their products. Not every product available will work for every ostomate, which is why so many companies offer a sample. Talk to your ET nurse, who may also get samples of new products from time to time, and can be on the lookout for you, especially if you have a stoma that's tricky to fit or if you need other specialty products.

Some companies that may offer samples include:

  • Active Lifestyle Products (United States and Canada)
  • Coloplast
  • ConvaTec
  • Cymed
  • Hollister
  • Schena Ostomy Technologies
  • SecuriCare
  • Securi-T
  • Torbot Group
  • Nu-Hope Laboratories

Always Check with Your ET Nurse

Sometimes, little tips and tricks can be helpful, but always do a sanity check with your healthcare team before making changes to your care regimen. The care of your stoma and your peristomal skin should always be the most important consideration.

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