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Dealing with a cold and flu when you have a stoma

hot drink on bedside table

It’s that time of year; short wet days, long cold nights and the seasonal cold and flu is going around. We’ve put together our tips and home remedies on how you can treat yourself if you are suffering with a cold or the flu, without having to see your GP. 

Symptoms of colds and flu come on very quickly, but you should usually start to feel better after a week. If you don’t feel better after this time, it may be worth speaking to you GP.

Try and rest

The best remedies for colds and flu is rest and sleep. The symptoms of the flu can be fever, chills, sore throat, cough, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches and tiredness. Cold symptoms are milder than symptoms of the flu and you may have a runny/stuffy nose and a cough. You will also find that you don’t have much energy so try to stay home and keep warm. Ask a relative or close friend to help you with the cooking, food shopping, looking after the children or pets, so you can rest properly. Take yourself to bed to ensure you are full relaxed.

Try sleeping in layers as you may find your body temperature fluctuates whilst your body tries to fight off the flu. It is then easier to remove the layers you don’t need, or add to the layers if you are cold beneath the sheets. Many people find it easier to sleep on a towel so that if you sweat during the night, you just need to change the towel rather than your bedding.

Keep hydrated

Make sure you take a glass of water with you to bed. Keep sipping the water so you are not thirsty and do not start getting dehydrated. It may be worth including electrolytes such as a sports drink if you can’t make your own hydration solution. This is very important for those who have an ileostomy as it doesn’t take long to feel dehydrated.

Try to keep refreshing the liquids and also the drink bottle or glass you are using, so you don’t re-infect yourself.

Warm fluids such as tea, clear soups and broths are comforting to drink when you are ill, just make sure any vegetables within the broth are soft. Water rich, soft fruits are also high in vitamins and easy to eat, such as ripe pears, watermelon, tomatoes or oranges (all without the pips or skins).

Managing your stoma output

As your diet changes due to a reduced appetite, you may find that your stoma output becomes more liquidy than usual. Try to eat some small chunks of banana, plain cakes, bread, rice cakes or jelly beans as these can all help to thicken your output. You could even try some thickening agents in your bag and some deodorants if you find the odour has changed whilst you’re feeling ill.

If you have a colostomy, it may help to use a drainable pouch whilst you are ill to reduce the need to change your bag as frequently. You may actually find that your output becomes thicker than normal as you aren’t drinking as much. Therefore, it’s really important to make sure you continue to drink plenty of water.


If you have a temperature, try some paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat any aches and pains. It’s always worth checking with your pharmacist that these are safe to use if you are on any other medication. Be careful with cold and flu remedies if you are already taking paracetamol or ibuprofen as some of remedies can contain paracetamol or ibuprofen, meaning you could overdose without realising.

Coughing and sneezing

Try and hold your hand over your stoma if you are sneezing or coughing a lot. Apply a little pressure as you do so, this may help prevent any complications with your stoma such as possible hernias. Or if you have a hernia support garment, it may be a good idea to wear this. Some people find using a small cushion or rolled up towel across their stoma and using it to ‘brace’ against when coughing can really help.

How to avoid spreading the flu

Flu is very infectious, especially in the first 5 days. It is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which then manage to live on your hands and hard surfaces for 24hours. Ways to reduce the chances of spreading the flu include:

  • Using tissues to trap the germs when you sneeze, these can then be binned or flushed away as soon as possible
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water to rid the germs after coughing or sneezing
  • Always wash your hands before and after you change your stoma bag

How to prevent the flu

The flu vaccine can reduce your risk of catching the flu. The best time to have the vaccine is before the start of the flu season, which is October/November. Speak to your healthcare professional about whether you are eligible for this. Alternatively, you can always seek advice from your local chemist.

Maintaining a healthy diet is also vital for helping your body prevent and fight off any illnesses, you can find out more about diet and nutrition for ostomates here.

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