Breathe Better While Bathing Revisited
While I know that many of you in the U.S. are enjoying the 4th of July holiday, I had a request from one of my dear pulmonary rehab patients to touch on bathing tips for people with lung conditions. If you have been following my blog from the very beginning, you may have previously read a few of these tips. However since posting my bathing tips blog, more than 1000 new subscribers have joined, so I think it is a good idea to rehash some of these tips (as well as others) because I know that very few of you have time to go back and read everything on this site.
Shortness of breath while bathing is one of the most common topics of discussion during our assessment in pulmonary rehab. If you think about it, you are in a warm, high humidity environment when bathing so the breathing setting could not be any worse for people with lung conditions. Most people with chronic lung disease breathe at their best in a cool, dry climate thus this setting is the complete opposite. However, daily hygiene is incredibly important to maintaining your health and so routine bathing must be done. Regular cleansing obviously helps us to avoid smelling bad, but can also help us to avoid feeing poorly. Numerous bacteria reside on the skin that if left there can lead to poor health. As many of my patients have noticed, the medications that they take every day seems to thin their skin causing it to be fragile and susceptible to tears making it easy for bacteria to invade.
Here are 8 tips that will help you to breathe more comfortably while bathing.
1. Bathe at a time of day that you have the most energy
For many of my patients, routine is a way of life. They have always gotten up every day and bathed or showered in the morning. Why change this routine? Well, the reason is that if the morning is not a time of day that you have the most energy… wait until later when you feel more energized to get that bath or shower time in. If you attempt to bathe when your energy is low, your ability to manage your normal level of breathlessness will be increasingly difficult.
I talked about preparing for an activity in an earlier blog (see Preparation Blog) so this idea is similar. You can’t go into a bathing activity without preparation. Use your short acting bronchodilator or rescue inhaler 10-15 minutes prior to bathing. Open up those airways so that you are breathing at your peak level. This may help alleviate the breathlessness from coming on so quickly and can also help with recovering faster than if you had nothing on board helping your lungs. Inspect your bathing area. Do you have everything in the bathtub/shower that you need? Are they within reach? Is your towel/robe hanging nearby? You don’t want to get in the shower/tub and realize that you have left something out and then have to get in and out multiple times depleting your energy.
3. Vent the bathroom either by running a fan or leaving the door propped open
Most homes have fans/vents installed in bathrooms with tubs and showers. Running with vent will help cut down on the heat and humidity that is increased with running a warm shower or bath. Propping the door (if privacy allows) will also help to lower the heat and humidity levels in the bathroom.
4. Get a shower seat.
Being able to sit in the shower may help you rest your legs while bathing. When a person gets very short of breath, they can feel like their legs get “wobbly.” You don’t want to risk falling in the shower because of this. Allow yourself to sit down and get most of you scrubbing done. These shower seats can be picked up from most medical supply stores or ordered online. I have also recommended to those on a budget to use a light weight deck chair with arms that has slits on the seat to allow water to flow through. These are typically narrow enough to fit into a standard tub/shower or free-standing shower and can be stowed away easily if guests come for a visit. Not to mention they are fairly inexpensive and can usually be replaced easily without hurting the wallet.
5. Wear Your Oxygen
YES! You can do it! If you have oxygen at home and are ordered to use it continuously or with exertion, now is the time to use it. Many of the patients that I meet don’t realize they can or should do this. I will admit that it will take a little getting used to having to finagle oxygen tube as you wash your face etc. but you will thank me later when you realize how much easier bathing became when you wore it in the bath and/or shower.
6. Dry off using a terrycloth robe or large bath sheet.
I will never forget when I suggested wearing a terrycloth robe to a retired Marine Colonel. He looked at me and firmly said, “Ma’am, I don’t wear terrycloth robes.” The idea for using the robe (or large bath sheet for all those non-robe wearers) is that they dry you off passively. Here’s the scenario: you make it through the entire shower/bath with very little breathlessness and then the first thing you have to do is stand up, take a towel, hunch over (which is very difficult to do and breathe at the same time), and dry yourself off. Conversely, you put on the terrycloth robe or wrap the bath sheet around you and just sit…. Ahhhh! You get it right?!
7. Take your time.
Rushing around will definitely cause breathlessness to catch up with you just as fast as you are moving. Making sure you have plenty of time to get ready will not only help to avoid breathlessness but also the stress that being in a rush puts on a person living with a lung condition.
8. Use other assistive devices to prevent prolonged standing and bending over.
I didn’t include this tip on my original blog post because this was suggested by one of my Facebook followers. Bending over and doing anything will cause someone with a lung condition to become short of breath. When you bend over you are decreasing the space for your lungs to expand because your abdomen and your chest get “squished together.” (For lack of better words) Use detachable shower heads to rinse off. I love long-handled scrubbers so you not only can reach your back but your feet and legs without bending over quite so much. I also recommended in my Life Hacks Blog having a pair of long kitchen tongs with rubber ends dedicated for the shower to use as “grabbers” in case you drop the soap or shampoo. These tongs will make it easier and safer to pick things up off the shower floor.
Have you made any other accommodations for bathing that I haven’t mentioned in this blog? Comment below if you have any other advice for others on how to avoid breathlessness while bathing.
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