I have a stoma and would like to travel. Is there a problem with travelling and should I do anything special?
Having a stoma should not prevent you from pursuing and enjoying travel. Some planning, however, is suggested as well as a few special considerations.
Prior to your trip, you should calculate the number of appliance changes you will require for the duration of your travel. You should also plan for a few additional appliance changes to account for unexpected delays in your travel plans and unexpected leakages or failures of your appliances. It is better to travel with extra appliances than not enough. Consider all of your ostomy care needs, from belts and barrier strips, to special wipes and skin protectants.
When travelling by plane, you should carry all of your ostomy supplies with you in your hand luggage. While potentially bulky, it is still safer to have the supplies with you then to risk the loss of supplies in stowed luggage that may go astray. If you are using a cut-to-fit appliance, recent restrictions with carrying sharp items, such as scissors in hand luggage, can be problematic. You may want to consider pre-cutting some flanges prior to your trip, and putting scissors in your stowed luggage. Even if your luggage goes missing, purchasing a pair of scissors at your final destination should not be problematic. Also be aware of differences in luggage allowances between regular carriers and charter flights: charter flights tend to be more restrictive with the amount and the weight of hand and stowed luggage that is allowed per person. Your travel agent should be able to confirm luggage allowances prior to your trip. Travelling by bus or train usually allows you to have your luggage close at hand, so the risk of loss is not as worrisome.
If you plan on travelling for extended periods of time, taking all of your ostomy supplies as hand luggage may not be realistic. Most of the main ostomy product suppliers (ConvaTec, Coloplast, and Hollister) have international directories of stores or distributors in many places around the world. You can contact the company prior to your travel date and ask for a directory or for the name of suppliers at your destination. You should prepare a record of your product name, size and order numbers to take with you on your travels as this will make the potential purchase of items easier.
During air travel, you may find that there is increased gas in your pouch for the duration of the flight. To prevent additional gas formation, avoid drinking carbonated beverages or beer during the flight. Sucking on candies or chewing gum to prevent “plugged” ears during take-off and landing may also increase pouch gas.
Extreme changes in temperatures may affect the tack or “stickiness” of your flanges. If you are travelling to cooler climates, store your supplies at a normal room temperature such as 18 degrees Celsius. If you are travelling to warmer, more humid climates, then store your supplies in a cooler bag, and place away from any direct sunlight. If you are travelling by car, avoid keeping your supplies unprotected in the trunk, as temperature changes in the trunk may affect your products’ effectiveness.
Finding suitable bathrooms to empty your appliance can be challenging when travelling. If you are used to using drainable pouches with a clip, you may want to consider switching to the use of closed end pouches for portions of your trip. When you are out exploring museums and enjoying restaurants, using closed end pouches and discarding them in Ziploc™ bags and the bathroom garbage may be easier and more hygienic than attempting to sit on a toilet and empty your pouch. Alternatively, if are using closed end pouches and the introduction of new foods and spices tends to cause diarrhea, you may want to bring a few drainable pouches to make the management of looser stool easier.
Water activities can also be enjoyed during your travels. You may want to consider the use of smaller stoma caps for swimming or other activities. These can be more discrete under swimsuits and shorts, and work best when there is some predictability to stoma function, as the capacity of most stoma caps is quite small (1-2 ounces). Mini-pouches are also available, which have a slightly larger capacity.
Ostomy belts may also provide additional security to your pouching system while participating in sports or other activities. If contact sports are planned, you may benefit from a stoma guard, which will protect your stoma from potential trauma. Contact your Enterostomal Therapy Nurse to determine if stoma caps, mini-pouches, belts or stoma guards are available for your pouching system.
Travelling in warmer climates may result in increased perspiration and skin irritation under your flange and pouch. Cloth pouch covers may help to absorb perspiration and prevent skin irritation, and sometimes applying an anti-perspirant to the skin where your pouch rests (not under the flange) may also decrease moisture. Drying your pouch off as soon as possible after water activities will also help to prevent a rash. Yeast is a common result of increased heat and moisture under the flange. You may want to consider bringing an anti-fungal powder with you, such as Arglaes®, and a skin sealant to treat potential yeast rashes. You can discuss this with your ET prior to your trip.
If you use irrigation as a means of managing your stoma, you should determine if the water at your destination is potable. If the water is not safe, irrigations should be done with bottled water to avoid any potential problems with diarrhea. If diarrhea does become a concern, ensure that you drink adequate fluids and consider using anti-diarrheal agents. Persistent symptoms, vomiting or signs of dehydration (weakness, dizziness, increased heart rate, decreased urine or concentrated urine) require medical attention. Again, discussing this with your ET or family doctor prior to travel will help to make your trip more enjoyable.
If you need assistance to help review dietary changes for the management of intestinal gas, or would like to consider alternate pouching options for managing gas, contact your ET.