Working, Staying Active, and Traveling When You Have an Ostomy

Know what's safe for your type of ostomy

Everyone needs daily exercise to stay healthy and for the body to function well. An ostomy should not keep you from exercising and playing sports. In fact, people with ostomies are distance runners, weight lifters, skiers, swimmers, and take part in most sports. But it's important to know what activities may not be safe for your type of ostomy. There are safety measures you may need to think about. For instance, many doctors recommend avoiding contact sports because of possible injury to the stoma from a severe blow. But special protection may be able to help prevent these problems. Talk to your health care team about any limitations you may have.

If you have a tracheostomy, you may have more limitations than people with other types of ostomies. This is because a tracheostomy stoma is your airway. You will need to be careful when doing activities that involve water. You will also need to guard your stoma from other things that are harmful, such as certain particles, objects, or substances in the air.

Most of the hints and tips below are for people who have an ostomy in their abdomen (belly), such as a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy. People with these types of ostomies sometimes wear longer shirts or exercise pants and shorts with higher waistbands, depending on the location of the stoma.

Swimming and water sports

People with a tracheostomy should ask their health care team about precautions related to swimming and water sports. People wih abdominal ostomies can swim with a pouching system in place. For sanitary reasons, use a stick-on pouch when you go swimming in fresh water or in the ocean. Remember these points:

  • If you use a support ostomy belt, you can leave it on if you want to.
  • You may want to protect the barrier by taping the edges with waterproof tape.
  • Before swimming, empty your pouch and remember to eat lightly.

Choosing a swim suit

You may want to choose a swim suit with a lining for a smoother profile. Dark colors or busy patterns can also help hide the pouching system.

For women:

  • Consider a suit with a well-placed skirt or ruffle.
  • You may also wear stretch panties made especially for swim suits.

For men:

  • Try a suit with a higher waist band or longer leg.
  • You may also wear bike shorts or a support garment sold in men’s underwear departments or athletic wear departments under your bathing suit.
  • Some men may prefer to wear a tank top and trunks, if the stoma is above the belt line.

Traveling when you have an ostomy

All methods of travel are open to people who have ostomies. Many people with ostomies travel just like everyone else; this includes camping trips, cruises, and air travel. Here are some travel tips:

  • Know your limitations for activities and type of travel, if any.
  • Take along enough supplies to last the entire trip plus some extras. Double what you think you may need, because supplies may not be easy to get where you’re going.Even if you don’t expect to need them, take along everything you need. Plastic bags with sealable tops may be used for pouch and equipment disposal, but local areas may have certain laws for medical waste that involved body fluids.
  • Leave home fully prepared. Find out if and where you can get supplies before a long trip. A local ostomy support group may be able to help you find ostomy supplies and local medical professionals.

Traveling by car:

  • Seat belts will not harm abdominal stomas when adjusted comfortably.
  • Keep your supplies in the coolest part of the car. Avoid the trunk or back window ledge.

Traveling by plane:

  • Remember that checked-in luggage sometimes gets lost. Carry extra supplies on the plane with you. Small cosmetic bags or shaving kits with plastic linings work well. These should be kept in your carry-on bag.
  • Air travel security will generally let you carry on all medical supplies. You may want to review the Transportation Security Administration’s information at: www.tsa.dhs.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/index.shtm

Traveling abroad:

  • To avoid problems with customs or luggage inspection, have a note from your doctor stating that you need to carry ostomy supplies and medicine by hand. Further problems might be avoided by having this information translated into the languages of the countries you are visiting.
  • Be aware of any special provisions your insurance coverage may have should you need care while you are away. If you are traveling abroad, get a current list of English-speaking doctors in the areas you’ll be visiting. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) at 716-754-4883 or www.iamat.org publishes lists of English speaking doctors who were trained in North America or Europe and are available in many countries around the world.
  • Traveler’s diarrhea is a common problem for tourists in foreign countries. The most common cause of diarrhea is impure water and/or food. It may also be caused by changes in water, food, or climate. Don’t eat unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables. Be sure drinking water is safe. If the water isn’t safe, don’t use the ice either. Bottled water or boiled water is recommended, even for brushing your teeth. Note for people with ileostomies: your body may lose water and minerals quickly when you have diarrhea. For this reason, you may need medicine to stop the fluid and electrolyte loss. Your doctor can give you a prescription to control diarrhea. Get it filled before you leave so that you can take the medicine with you just in case you need it.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association of America (1962-2019). It has since been modified and updated by the American Cancer Society using the following sources.

American Thoracic Society. Living with a tracheostomy. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016;194:5-6. Accessed at https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/tracheostomy-in-adults-2.pdf on October 2, 2019.

Hollister. Living with an ostomy: Home and work life. Accessed at https://www.hollister.com/~/media/files/pdfs–for–download/ostomy–care/living–with–an–ostomy_home–and–work–life_923126-0417.pdf on October 2, 2019.

Hollister. Living with an ostomy: Sports and fitness. Accessed at https://www.hollister.com/~/media/files/pdfs–for–download/ostomy–care/living–with–an–ostomy_sports–and–fitness_923127-0417.pdf on October 2, 2019.

Hollister. Living with an ostomy: Travel. Accessed at https://www.hollister.com/~/media/files/pdfs–for–download/ostomy–care/living–with–an–ostomy_travel_923123-0417.pdf on October 2, 2019.

United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA).  Living with an ostomy. Accessed at https://www.ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Living-With-An-Ostomy-Brochure.pdf on October 2, 2019.

United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA).  Living with an ostomy: FAQs. Accessed at https://www.ostomy.org/living-with-an-ostomy/ on October 2, 2019.

United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA). New ostomy patient guide: Colostomy, ileostomy, urostomy, continent diversion. Accessed at https://www.ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/All-In-One-New-Patient-Guide_2018.pdf on October 2, 2019.

Last Medical Review: October 2, 2019 Last Revised: October 2, 2019

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