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Showering with COPD: My Learning Process

COPD Basics

October 24, 2023

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Photography by Alexander Grabchilev/Stocksy United

Photography by Alexander Grabchilev/Stocksy United

by Barbara Moore

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

•••••

•••••

by Barbara Moore

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

•••••

•••••

Before I learned my diagnosis, one of the first signs something was wrong was realizing how difficult it was to shower. From tools to breathing exercises, here’s what I’ve discovered can help.

Even prior to finding out that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the cause, I struggled with showers. I couldn’t stand for long enough to finish. I was short of breath, and doing my hair left me sitting on the side of the bathtub to catch my breath. Only after resting did I have enough energy to swing my legs over and get out of the tub.

Every shower was such a challenge it left me avoiding showers or waiting longer between each. It was personal, private, and embarrassing because I worked as an accounting professor at a local college. My students were in close proximity and sensitive to hygiene, and it wasn’t an environment where you could enter smelling like yesterday.

My symptoms became more prominent with time. My shortness of breath got worse with any exertion, such as standing, walking, or raising my hands over my head. I realized that if I wanted to shower, it would be easier if I could sit. I found my kitchen stool and put it in the tub. Once I could sit, it made my shower more manageable.

This was long before I knew anything about shower chairs or any other showering aids. I had no idea that shortness of breath was even a thing that other people were dealing with, but I will never forget how having that stool made my shower easier, especially when I was washing my hair.

I didn’t really understand how my shower seat helped, if this was a good thing, or why it made a difference. I had no idea I was doing exactly what my body needed me to do, and I would only find out about it a year later when I was diagnosed.

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Putting together the pieces

I was diagnosed with COPD in late 2015. A short time after my diagnosis, at the beginning of the new year, I had a sudden cardiac arrest at my kitchen table. That day was the day that my chronic illness journey began in earnest. I had no idea the depth of this chronic illness, how it affected my heart, or how hard my family and I would need to fight.

I learned that my difficulty showering was a common challenge for people living with COPD. My idea to use the kitchen stool was just the beginning when it came to making adjustments to this daily routine. Here are some of the other things I’ve learned that help with showering.

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The humidity can be an added challenge

I had to learn about humidity in the shower and how it’s harder to breathe in high humidity conditions. Opening a window, using a fan, or leaving the door ajar helps to eliminate some of that problem, along with keeping the water on the cooler side.

When I started to use supplemental oxygen, my doctor told me to use it every time while showering.

Setting up your space can help

Since it can take me days to coax myself into taking a shower, I decided to work hard on my bathroom to make it a safe and inviting place. I began by clearing the clutter down to the bare bones, then building back. I eliminated all the old bottles of soap, shampoo, and conditioner and replaced them with new fresh bottles.

Then, I had the room freshly painted and updated all the accessories, including a new shower curtain and liner.

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The right tools make a difference

Using a terry towel helps to conserve the energy it would take to dry off, so I got rid of the mismatched, stained, and ripped towels, replacing them with oversized terry towels, a terry robe, and a sturdy floor mat.

My shower head has a long hose attached that allows me to hold it while showering, giving me better control over the water.

Changing behaviors is key

Of all the work I put into making bath time an inviting time, the most important was learning how to control my breath. I use mindfulness, pursed lip breathing, and meditation. Adding in lots of patience and the desire to manage my breath gave me the recipe for a successful outcome.

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Know you’re not alone in your feelings

I am sure that there is a story behind all the tasks we attempt with COPD, but I always considered showering one of the hardest. I remind myself that as much as I hate taking a shower, I always feel so much better after it’s over and done with. If you’re feeling the same, know that you’re not the only one.

Medically reviewed on October 24, 2023


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