Expert Answers: Showering with COPD

Many people in the community have talked about the discomfort and challenges of showering when one has COPD. So we asked our experts for their ideas on the topic. Check out what they had to say to the following question, and add your own comments below!

It feels like I’m suffocating in the shower. Do you have any ideas on what can help me?

Response from Ann
Many people with COPD feel breathless when showering. Here are a few things that can be helpful:

  • 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.

How about you? Do you have any tips for showering with COPD? Please feel free to share your thoughts with others in the COPD.net community by adding your comments below!

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • danna
    7 months ago

    Hi,
    Having experienced a fall recently, my husband made a bell for me that will get anyone in the house to come to me. It helps that everone is one the same page. I’m still working out the type of O2 device is the best when showering and dressing – my 2 hardest things of the day.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    danna – thank you very much for posting. The suggestion of the bell is really great! If you don’t mind, I’m going to use that next time someone asks me for ideas when it comes to showering with COPD.

    The O2 device can be a little challenging. I find a lot depends on your personal preferences. Just make sure whatever you use, the tubing is long enough to reach but keep it out of the way so you don’t trip.

    Once again, thank you for the great showering tip!

    Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi danna and thanks for sharing your concerns with our online community. In addition to Lyn’s reply, I thought you might want to consider using a ‘shower chair/stool’ when showering. Others in our community have said they find these chairs to be very helpful in keeping them safe and reducing the amount of exertion during the shower. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • WillDoe
    8 months ago

    I learned early on, ‘head to toes’. Wash and rinse: downward.
    Have and do everything from soap to using an inhaler, BEFORE getting in the shower.
    1. Focus on NOT FALLING.
    2. Focus on bathing in the shower, efficiently.
    3. Focus on what needs to be changed from keeping a cell phone at hand (if I fall, I may need it nearer to the floor) to having the front door unlocked for those who may come looking for me…
    4. Repeat numbers one and two.
    The bathroom, in general, figures into a number of ‘Falling’ statistics, I’m trying to avoid those lists.
    Note: the most mentioned thing by the moderators, is a shower chair. Oxygen in the shower sounds good as well as the hand held shower head.
    (I apologize if my ‘tone’ is off, but I’m very afraid of falling and not being found.)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    We hear you, WillDoe and understand. We appreciate you posting your list of ‘tips for taking a shower’ to share with the community – it is extremely helpful. There is no harm to being extra vigilant when functioning in the bathroom – in fact, it is extremely prudent! As you pointed out, the shower can be a location that requires the extra caution!
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Paula
    2 years ago

    People just don’t understand that you only have energy to accomplish a few “big” things in any given day and showering is a biggie! The actual act of showering is not the problem – it’s all the other stuff that causes problems like drying off and drying your hair (I have short hair.) Showering and grocery shopping on the same day is just about impossible and pretty much puts me in bed all day the next day.

  • lovinggrandma
    8 months ago

    Boy, I hear all you’re saying and more! I tried taking a bath thinking it would be easier and it took me 30 minutes trying to get out of the tub. It would have been funny had it not been so pitiful. I would never attempt to even take a shower and go to the grocery in one day! I wouldn’t wish this condition on my worst enemy!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    We hear you lovinggrandma! Thanks for your comments. Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Paula – As Janet has said, we hear you!! Others in our community have expressed similar sentiments when it comes to showering and the effort it takes to have that shower. I thought you might find it helpful to look over these comments from our community members on that very subject: https://copd.net/living/community-feedback-tips-for-showering/
    I hope you find it makes interesting and informative reading.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Janet Plank
    2 years ago

    Paula you are so right. It can be a big chore and by the time a person is ready to go out, they’re ready to go back to bed. It’s so important to pace yourself and allow time to take short breaks while you are getting ready. Short hair is the best, I have don’t that too. Do you have a chair to go into your shower and another when you get out? That can be so helpful. Be so careful not to fall.
    I do understand being in bed the next day. It’s important that you take that time for you. Be sure to walk around every hour or so. It’s important for circulation and to avoid clots.
    COPD isn’t for sissies is it?
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We learn from each other and this is also used to support each other.
    Come back to our sites often. We are here for you.

    Janet (moderator)

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