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UOAA Answers 3 Common Concerns About Swimming With An Ostomy

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After healing from ostomy surgery people of all ages and types of ostomies can—and do—enjoy swimming again. They also surf, water ski and relax in a hot tub. From worry of leaks to the reaction of fellow swimmers, the anxiety can be enough to keep some ostomates out of the pool.

Since there are no ostomy-specific restrictions to swimming in public places, you can simply follow all the normal pool rules, such as rinsing off before entering, just like everybody else. We asked the United Ostomy Association of America to answer three common questions people might have about swimming with an ostomy.

"Swimming has made me stronger both physically and emotionally. It is a great outlet and has made me even healthier. I feel and look more beautiful." – Lynn Wolfson, double ostomate due to Hirschsprung’s Disease

Lynn Wolfson

Lynn Wolfson of Weston, FL swim training with her service dog, Zev.

1. I'm afraid my pouch will leak or my wafer will loosen in the water.

If this is your number one concern, you’re not alone. Remember, your pouching system is resistant to water and with a proper fit and seal, it’s designed not to leak. If you’re hesitant about how your wafer will hold up, take a practice soak in your bathtub.

Avoid applying a new wafer/flange and pouching system right before swimming. The WOCN Society recommends allowing 12 hours for proper adhesion. Using waterproof tape or water-specific barrier strips are not necessary, but for many ostomates they provide peace of mind while swimming. Be aware that you may experience skin sensitivities to the adhesives in these products.

Double ostomate, Lynn Wolfson figured out the optimal amount of time for maintaining the best adhesion while in the water. She says, "I limit myself to half an hour, forty minutes at most." Some ostomates can swim longer with no issues, while others need to change their appliance within a few hours after a swim; everyone is different. Having confidence with your ostomy pouch fit out of the water is critical to feeling confident in the water. Carrying an emergency kit of supplies is also a good idea.

2. What can I wear to help conceal my ostomy pouch while swimming?

The type of bathing suit depends on how many ostomies you have, where they are located on your abdomen and what type of water activity you are going to be doing. Whatever your bathing suit style, wearing a patterned or darker color is less transparent than a light colored swim garment.

On the beach or poolside don't be surprised to know that many ostomates are comfortable showing their ostomy wearing the swimsuit of their choice. Some wear ostomy pouch covers and some just choose an opaque pouch.

Try these options for women:

  • Ruffled waist one-piece
  • Two-piece mix and match; tankini tops, high-waisted bottoms or boy shorts
  • Tummy Control Swimwear
  • Swim wraps

Try these options for men:

  • Higher waist trunks
  • Legsuits & Boyleg Swimsuits
  • Stretch fabric undergarments
  • Swim or surf shirts

Swimwear and accessories specifically made for ostomates are offered by a variety of manufacturers.

3. What should I do if others are concerned that my stoma is an open wound or that ostomy pouches are not allowed in public pools?

Keep in mind that many people do not understand or are misinformed about ostomies. Stay calm and use this situation to educate others. Remember, unless you expose your ostomy pouch or inform pool personnel, it won't be obvious that you have an ostomy. UOAA Advocacy Manager, Jeanine Gleba has created a resource kit for swimming with an ostomy for ostomates who may be denied access to public swimming pools.

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures your right to pool access and most disagreements can be solved through education before exploring any legal recourse. For more ostomy resources and support groups visit United Ostomy Associations of America.