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Travelling with a Stoma

If your child has a colostomy or ileostomy, you may feel that you are confined to holidays at home. This is certainly not the case, although there are a few extra considerations if you are planning a family trip.

The first thing to do is make sure you have plenty of supplies to last you until you get home. If you are going to be away for some weeks, it’s a good idea to get your stomal therapy nurse to help you apply for extra supplies from your ostomy association. A general rule of thumb is to work out what you need and then double it, so then you can deal with any emergencies, and still have enough to last until your next order. Your association can also provide you with contact details for ostomy groups and associations in other Australian states, so you have someone to contact if you have a problem with supplies.

Depending on where you are intending to travel, it is also useful to have a letter from your doctor or stomal therapist, explaining your need for the various supplies you will be carrying. Some customs officials look upon unusual items as suspicious, and a letter may save you embarrassment.

A letter from your doctor will also come in handy if your child becomes ill while you are away, to inform the treating doctor of the child’s medical history. It is also advisable to carry any prescriptions with you as well.

It is always an excellent idea to obtain travel insurance before you go outside Australia. Depending on your child’s condition, this may be a little difficult, as many companies will not insure a pre-existing condition. Ask your treating doctor for a letter stating that your child is well enough to travel, and, if necessary, go to more than one company. (We had to try seven before we had success!) If all else fails, choose a holiday destination in our own great country.

Travelling brings a change in routine, as well as different foods, so diarrhoea and constipation are not uncommon. Make sure you are aware of what to do if these problems occur. Children with stomas can dehydrate very easily. It may be an idea to carry with you a packet of rehydrating solution, which you can buy from your local chemist before you go, in case diarrhoea develops. Travelling by air is also dehydrating, so ensure your child drinks plenty of water during the flight. If you are travelling in places where the water supply is doubtful, drink bottled or treated water. I have always found it advisable to avoid meat, salads, and ice products in these places. Fruit you can peel is safe, as is food that you can see being prepared. Choose crowded local restaurants rather than empty tourist ones. The food is the local restaurants will have a higher turnover, and if it’s crowded, it’s probably also cheap and delicious! Eating local cuisine is one of the joys of travelling, anyway.

Changing stoma bags in public facilities is often necessary when travelling. Carry your “changing kit” with you at all times. This kit can include nappy disposal bags, which are deodorised and can be sealed, so you can dispose of the used bag in the garbage. Wet wipes are also useful for washing your hands before and after changing the bag. Carrying your own tissues or toilet paper will ensure that even a badly maintained public loo won’t bother you!

Always keep your stomal supplies with you. If you are travelling by air, put your supplies in your hand luggage. That way, even your suitcase being lost will not be a disaster. If you are travelling by car, don’t leave stoma wafers in a hot car for too long, as the wafer will deteriorate and won’t stick properly. Although most people remove the bags and wafers from the boxes for easier packing, it’s a good idea to use zip lock plastic bags or something similar to keep the contents clean and dry.

If your child’s treatment regime includes bowel washouts, you will find that your choice of accommodation while travelling is limited to hotels, the homes of understanding friends, or bed & breakfast rooms with a private bathroom. Sharing bathroom facilities in hostels or low-budget places is very difficult. The washouts often take more than an hour, so having a whole bunch of irate fellow travellers outside the bathroom door in shared facilities was simply not practical for us. If your child is having rectal washouts, it will be necessary to have a plastic sheet to protect bed linen, and a container large enough to collect the washout return, as well as access to a private toilet. If your child as a caecostomy button, things are a little easier, but you will need to ensure that you have access to clean water (boil it if necessary), and plenty of tubes and bags. I made up several “washout kits” containing a tube, bag, salt, dressings, and tape, and put one kit in each piece of luggage and in each carry-on bag. That way we were sure to have equipment, even though we lost Tony’s suitcase on the first flight! As we were stopping over in Thailand, I also had a couple of bags of saline solution in case we couldn’t make our own saline with the local water. A hook to hang the bag of saline over the bathroom door or on the shower rail was also useful. Most people have a set-up at home where the child has access to a book, TV or whatever to keep them amused during the tedious washout procedure; Hannah did all of her school work on the loo, so she got that out of the way! (As we were away for two months, she had to do “home schooling” while we were travelling). The washout routine was a little upset by changing time zones, etc, so we just made sure to get one done before a long flight, and that way we avoided trouble with bloating or incontinence. In short, although we had to make allowances for washouts, the bowel problems were no obstacle at all to the enjoyment of a great trip.

Travelling with a stoma IS possible. Don’t let it get in the way of your precious family time. Sometimes a break is very therapeutic, especially for a family with health problems. I know we will always look back on our trip with great memories of the time we spent together.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me on forums@bgk.org.au if anyone has questions on this topic or any other stoma problem.

Tracey Newcombe STN


Bowel Group for Kids Inc