Sloth wearing an oxygen tank and walking towards the shower.

Showering, Personal Hygiene & COPD

Most of us with COPD end up showering and taking care of personal hygiene at night or in the middle of the day because mornings are spent like a sloth, going very slowly until our breathing catches up with our puffers and meds. COPD and chronic illness can make you tired and short of breath, leaving you with very little energy, even though it is still necessary to maintain a certain level of personal hygiene.

In my experience, if you use oxygen for exertion, you can use it while showering. Talk to your doctor about whether you should increase you oxygen saturation while showering. There is no danger to using O2 in the shower and water will not get into the tubing. If you are worried about it, have the O2 tubing hanging down from the shower curtain rod and insert cannulas in your nose as normal. Always speak to your doctor with any questions or concerns.

Planning ahead before showering

Think ahead before getting into the shower so everything is ready in advance and you will have what you need at hand coming out of the shower.

I have a fresh outfit ready along with a pair of slippers to pop my feet into. Then I put a lightweight stool in front of the mirror so I can comb my hair. I don’t use carpets but if you do, make sure they are skid free, and remove all other obstacles that could cause slips and falls.

A sturdy plastic shower chair is a great addition to your shower as it grips the bottom of the tub and helps to keep you steady without losing your balance preventing shortness of breath. Mine has a holder for the shower head and a back attached, but a stool would work just as well.

Your shower should already be equipped with handrails, one on the side and the other in front of you. I had my handrails professionally installed so there was no issue of stability.

Some more helpful tips

A hand-held shower head with a long hose keeps you in control of the water pressure, spray, and temperature. Keep water on the cooler side so as not to build up too much humidity and always have a fan on or a window slightly open.

A soap caddy should be placed so that soap, shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer are always at hand and ready when you need them. This will also help to prevent slips and falls as no extra soap or bottles are underfoot.

Raising arms over your head to wash your hair can cause further shortness of breath; you may need help with this on bad breathing days.

One of the best tips I got from Respiratory Rehab was to use a terrycloth robe. Not easy to find and not cheap, if you do the search you will not be sorry. Throwing on my terry robe after a shower keeps me warm. I save the energy it would take to dry myself and leave it on for a while until I am ready to dress.

Overall my showering experience is 100% better managed thinking it through.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (32)
  • Joe B.
    2 months ago

    At stage 4 now with terminal cancer also, but your suggestion of a small stool, and, using the oxygen in the shower has helped me somewhat; plus, I must leave the door open, and reduce the water temperature. Thanks for the many practical ideas.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi Joe and thanks for taking the time to let us know how the information in Barbara’s article has been helpful for you.
    I thought you might also find it helpful to look over this article on more tips (from the community) when taking showers: https://copd.net/living/community-feedback-tips-for-showering/.
    Wishing you well,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hi Joe B,
    I am so happy that found my ideas to be practical. I know that there is no better feeling then stepping out of the shower and knowing that you accomplished a major task for the day. Barbara (SIte Moderator)

  • schieffer
    4 months ago

    At times the shower seems like a torture chamber so I will lather up at the sink before getting in. Gives me time to catch my breath, get control of myself, and leaves only shampooing and rinsing. Probably sounds crazy and a bit embarrassing but sometimes that’s what I have to do.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi schieffer,
    we all find what is most comfortable for us. Most of us feel like showering is a torture chamber and so if you have found what works for you, do keep it up but do go slow and practice deep breathing in order to stay calm. Sometimes we let the fear get the better of us and predict a bad experience ahead of time.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • nedra
    4 months ago

    I did get a terry robe and also highly recommend. When showering I must remember not to hurry and even use some of this time to be still and practice breathing. This makes it a much more enjoyable experience. I do have the luxury of a hand held shower head and a chair; both pretty necessary for me.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi Again nedra,

    Its true that we have to use the tools that we have and using them wisely makes everything easier. It took me a long time to figure out how to shower so I wasn’t worn out after. We all do what we can do and leave the rest for another day.
    Thank you for your comments
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • nedra
    4 months ago

    Thank you for your comment about slow am moving. I am very slow ad make no am commitments. Sometimes if I’ve been out the day before or had company I have a “sloth” day because I just don’t have what it takes the next day. For months I felt guilty about the my lazy days but no more. Some days are just better than others.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi nedra,
    You should never feel guilty for taking care of you. Lazy days mean that we go slower, and that is OK too. Thank you for your comments
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • chrisptx
    4 months ago

    I get so worn out showering that I started taking baths instead. It’s a lot easier to wash my hair while sitting in the tub and I can take it slow and don’t get nearly as winded.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi Chrisptx,
    Thank you for your comment. I agree with Leon that getting into a bath in not usually a COPD option. Kudos to you for finding out what works for you. We are all certainly different.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi again, chrisptx and once again, thanks for your post. We appreciate you letting us know what works for you – in this case, bathing instead of showering. With all the different stories on our website and all the members who provided comments regarding this topic (COPD and showers), you are the first (that I recall) who mentioned bathing as a viable alternative. (Does anyone else recall this being mentioned?) We appreciate this ‘new’ idea here! Warmly, Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi crhisptx and thanks for your recent post (today, below). That’s a good observation and another tip. The bath would help to keep the humidity down (as compared to a hot shower), especially since you’re providing every advantage by letting the humidity escape (while running the bath), by keeping the door open. We appreciate your continued input. Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

  • chrisptx
    4 months ago

    Bathing also reduces the amount of steam in the bathroom. I can run the bath with the door open and make sure it’s not humid in there when I get in the tub. I found with a hot shower I could barely breathe from the steam and humidity and I don’t like cool showers.

  • racehorse
    4 months ago

    I have been on oxygen for over a year-my doctor has me kick it up to 3 when I shower or exercise.
    At first-I would get into a rush-this made my breathing difficult-I have learned to take it slow and steady-enjoy the feel of the water.

    I bought my terrycloth robe on ebay (used) and it is the best tip for taking a shower-put it on-put a towel on your head and just set and breathe for a while.

    I use a soap bottle-with a pump-and I use a shampoo with conditioner combined.

    Make sure you have plenty of time and you are prepared with everything you need.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi racehorse,
    thank you for you comments. You are on point when you say that you can not race through it.
    Best to be mindful, relax and enjoy, as pacing is one of the best things we will learn to do.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • KevinDavitt
    4 months ago

    Great piece, Barbara.
    The one thing I had to adjust to was breathing through my mouth while I was under the water.
    I was breathing through my nose with the cannula and nearly drowned (lol!)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi KevinDavitt,
    I had the same problem, in fact I think it is a universal problem that we all have to learn to breathe deeper and through our noses.
    Great comment.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • cacromley
    4 months ago

    My shower is very small. There is NO room for a shower chair, seat, stool etc. This was verified by a Physical Therapist. Showering wears me out! Any suggestions??

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi Cacromley
    I am sorry you don’t have room for any kind of support for sitting. This will make it harder for sure. Do you have hand rails? They may provide some support and if you use supplemental 02 please do use it as well.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Stamford1234
    4 months ago

    Excellent advice. Having my shower room remodelled soon. I had completely forgotten about hand rails!

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi Stamford1234
    So glad you remembered the hand rails, They can be a life saver for sure.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    4 months ago

    I’m glad this was a timely article for you, Stamford1234! I hope your bathroom is a more COPD-friendly space after the remodel! ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • millerjuzix
    4 months ago

    You answered a question I had for years. I can use my oxygen in the shower. Great article and advice.Thanks.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi millerjuzix ,
    Using 02 in the shower is what makes exertion easier. So glad you found this answer.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    4 months ago

    I am so glad the article was useful for you, millerjuzix! I hope wearing oxygen in the shower will help to make the process a bit easier for you! ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • Vittoria
    4 months ago

    I second the robe solution. I got an Aquis towel that absorbs water like magic. My robe is the same fabric. I love them and found them on Amazon for a reasonable price. I also have a teak bench in the shower that is a lifesaver. I sit while washing my hair and that, too, makes a difference. I know from experience that I need to just sit and crash after a shower to get back to “normal” breathing. You learn as you go what works best for you.

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi Vittoria,
    So glad you found this article helpful and that you agree with my robe trick.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    4 months ago

    Thank you for sharing what is helping you with the process of showering, Vittoria! You are correct, it does take a bit of trial and error to find what works best for each individual person. I’m glad you plan in time to rest and recover after completing your shower! It is an exhausting undertaking when living with COPD. ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • judy2121
    4 months ago

    Like the idea about the terrycloth robe.
    When I was in rehab I learn to exercise with a 2 # weight. Got it at Walmart and use it when I am sitting still. Been having trouble and feel like I could not breathe washing my hair. They told me to try it for a few days and it work I can wash my own hair. Things I did everyday is like a challenge now.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi judy2121 and thanks for your post. Using that
    2-pound weight is an excellent example of gradually building up your strength and stamina. By doing that, it enables you to better handle everyday situations (such as washing your hair, as you said) and which can provide you with a real sense of accomplishment. Keep up the good work! Leon (site moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    4 months ago

    Hi judy2121,It is so important that we continue to do the things we are able too.
    I am happy that you enjoyed the terry robe suggestion. Let me know if you try it and what your thoughts are.
    Barbara Moore (site moderator)

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