Expert Answers: Showering With COPD
Last updated: September 2023
How to manage shortness of breath while bathing
It feels like I'm suffocating in the shower. Do you have any ideas on what can help me?
Response from Ann
- Wear oxygen in the shower. If you have been prescribed oxygen and you have been told by your doctor to wear it all the time, it’s ok to wear it in the shower. It you only wear it for certain periods of the day or only at night, check with your doctor.
- Keep the bathroom well-ventilated. Minimize steam build-up. Have the window open, use the exhaust fan, or even bring in a portable fan. Another trick is to turn on the cold water first, then add the hot water gradually.
- Use a shower chair. Sit while you shower and have all of your supplies at waist height so you don’t have to bend. Bending over can make you more short of breath. Also using a hand-held shower head is a great way to bathe, you can lather up while sitting in a shower chair and rinse off with the hand-held shower head!
- Using a long-handled bath brush. Use this to wash your feet and back to minimize bending. Also use soap-on-a-rope and hang it so that you don’t have to bend.
- When you get out of the shower, use a fluffy robe to dry off. Sit to dry your feet or use a pair of cozy slippers!
- Make sure everything you need is in the shower before you get in. It’s a good idea to do this well ahead of time, not just before showering because this takes extra energy.
- Don’t forget your pursed-lip breathing!!
Response from Leon
Actually, many people with COPD express this concern about the difficulty they have while showering. The issue of shortness of breath (SOB) is related to the high humidity in the shower, as is the effort expended to actually conduct your personal cleaning and hair washing. All this can contribute to the difficulty breathing and SOB you feel while showering. In addition, the effort and energy needed to dry oneself completely after the shower may also be too strenuous for someone with COPD. Here are some suggestions and tips that you may find make showering more manageable:
- Try using a shower chair or stool of some kind. Sitting, rather than standing, can make it easier to do what needs to be done in the shower. Consider using a hand held shower if you find that makes it easier.
- Since excess humidity can interfere with comfortable breathing, try using warm (rather than hot) water. In addition, the door can be left open or ajar, a window can be opened, and exhaust fans can be utilized if the bathroom is so equipped.
- If the effort needed to wash your hair is too difficult for you in the shower (or bath, or sink), consider asking someone for assistance with this.
- Try utilizing a long handled brush or sponge. This should make it easier to wash your back and feet and you will expend less energy bending and stretching.
- If you are dependent on oxygen, it is safe to use the oxygen while in the shower. You can drape the oxygen supply hose safely over the shower door, shower rod, or side of the tub. While washing your face, it should be safe to remove the nasal cannula while you do so.
- And finally, you may want to invest in a full quality terrycloth bathrobe with hood. The robe will enable you to dry yourself more passively, with little effort on your part. You can even relax and rest in a comfortable chair while drying.
Response from Lyn
Usually this is the result of a combination of things – the humid air from the hot shower and the effort you’re expending to take the shower. Here are a few suggestions to help conserve your strength and not become so short of breath.
- Buy a shower stool or chair so that you can sit while showering.
- If you wear oxygen, wear it in the shower. You may have to add an extension to your oxygen hose, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
- Take your shower at your “best” time of day. For each person that will be different. But if you generally feel good in the morning, take it then. Plan your day so that when you’re done showering you can take a little while to recover – just sit and catch your breath.
- This may be a tough one if you’re like me and prefer a scalding hot shower – but if you can tolerate it, turn the water temperature down so that not as much steam is produced.
- Lastly, if you find you’re just too short of breath to dry off with a big, heavy bath towel, try using a couple of hand towels or just throw a robe on and let that do the trick without any effort on your part.
Response from John
There's a couple options here. I will be assuming you're already compliant with your COPD treatment program. One option is to get a shower chair, or even a hand held shower hose. You may also wear your oxygen while showering, which can help with breathing. If the humidity bothers you, make sure you keep the bathroom fan on, keep the door open, and open a window if one is available. This can help reduce humidity, making air easier to inhale.
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