How to Manage Diarrhea at School

Three Parts:Getting through the School DayTaking PrecautionsTreating Symptoms

Diarrhea, which is frequent and watery bowel movements, can be a real nightmare for any person. It is often caused by a gastrointestinal infection and can cause a lot of discomfort. In most cases, it’s advisable to stay home for a couple of days to allow yourself to recuperate.[1] However, if you are unable to stay home or get struck with diarrhea in a place like school, you may be unsure of how best to deal with it during the day. By treating your symptoms and taking precautions, you can manage a case of diarrhea at school.

Part 1
Getting through the School Day

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    Use the bathroom during breaks. Even if you feel like you don’t have to go, try and use the bathroom whenever you have a break and between classes. This may help ensure that you don’t experience any flare-ups during class or another inconvenient time. Give yourself the time you need in the bathroom. If you’re late for class, explain to your teacher that you’re sick and have to use the bathroom more frequently.
    • Let your teacher know why you’re late. Ask your teacher if you can talk to outside of the classroom if you are embarrassed. Remember that teachers are there to help you and letting your instructor know what’s going on can prevent further uncomfortable situations. For example, you could say, “Mr. Newman, could I please speak to you outside about something important?” Once you get out of the classroom, tell the teacher, “I’m very sorry, but I’m having terrible problems with my stomach today. I may need to get up and use the bathroom during class.”
    • Put your own health first. If you're having trouble communicating with your teacher or are not receiving the help you need, do not hesitate to put your own wellness first. Do what you need to do in order to manage your diarrhea. You should minimize disrupting your classroom and school environment, but your health should be your first priority.
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    Sit near a door. If you have to go to the bathroom often, let your teacher know what’s going on and ask if you can sit next to the door. This allows you to slip out if you feel ill without disrupting the class or drawing attention to yourself.
    • Consider asking to sit on the floor next to the door if necessary. If anyone asks, you can easily say “my back is killing me today and sitting on those chairs makes it worse.”
    • Avoid making a commotion if you do leave. Get up as gently as possible and quietly open the door to avoid drawing attention to yourself.
    • Use the bathroom during breaks, even if you don't think you have to go. These preventative trips to the bathroom might prevent you from rushing to go in the future.
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    Wear protective undergarments. If you have severe diarrhea, you might consider wearing disposable underwear designed for bowel incontinence. These can catch any accidents and prevent odor you might have without exposing them to people around you.[2] They may also give you some peace of mind, which can help with bowel issues.[3]
    • You can get full padded briefs, protective underwear, and/or belted undergarments. Choose the undergarment that you like the best, think is the most comfortable, and is the easiest for you to use.
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    Bring a change of clothing. Before you leave in the morning, pack an extra set of underwear and pants in case of an emergency. This may also help relieve any anxiety you feel about having an accident. If you get diarrhea while you’re at school, ask the school nurse if she has a spare set of clothing or call your parents to see if they can bring you new garments.[4]
    • Cover the back of your trousers with your book bag or shirt until you can get to a bathroom or the nurse’s office to change.
    • Bring identical clothing if you can. For example, if you’re wearing jeans, have another pair handy. If anyone asks, you can say “I ate too much at lunch and my other jeans were uncomfortably tight.”
    • Tell anyone who asks you why you changed your clothes that you’re trying out different outfits during the day.
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    Feel confident. It’s easy to feel ashamed or embarrassed if you’re experiencing diarrhea in a public place like school. But it’s important to remember that everyone poops and most people will also have diarrhea at some point in their lives. Keeping these facts in mind may help to calm you and feel less self-conscious about your diarrhea.[5]
    • Allow yourself to use the bathroom without experiencing any embarrassment. Holding in a bowel movement can be uncomfortable and may harm you. If you need, use the bathroom and wait until everyone is gone before you leave.
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    Wash your hands. Each time you use the bathroom, make sure to thoroughly cleanse your hands. This can prevent the spread of diarrhea to others or may also keep you from getting sicker.[6]
    • Rinse your hands with warm water and then lather with soap for at least 20 seconds, which is about as long as singing “Happy Birthday” twice. Rinse your hands again thoroughly to clean off any soap residue.
    • Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren’t available. Cover both the front and back of each of your hands and rub in the sanitizer the same way you would soap.

Part 2
Taking Precautions

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    Calm yourself. Feeling panicky or anxious about diarrhea may make it worse since the body’s response to emergencies is to loosen bowel control. By talking yourself through and reframing the situation, you can calm yourself and your bowels.[7]
    • Avoid thoughts such as “what if I don’t make it to the bathroom” and “this is awful.” Instead, think that accidents are rare and that you’ve never had one or that if you stay calm, your bowels will stay calm, too.
    • Consider trying deep breathing exercises, which may also calm you and your intestines. Inhale and exhale evenly and deeply for a count of 4 or 5 seconds.
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    Resist squeezing or straining. It’s common to squeeze or contract the muscles around your rectum if you have diarrhea. However, these actions can actually make diarrhea worse by causing muscle fatigue, weakness, pain, and cramping. Avoid straining or squeezing as much as you can.[8]
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    See the school nurse. If diarrhea strikes during school, you go to school with it, or a case gets worse, let the school nurse know. She can help you successfully get through the day without too much discomfort.
    • Be open with the nurse and don’t feel any shame or embarrassment. She’s used to seeing cases of illness in school, including diarrhea. If you have a hard time saying, “I have diarrhea,” you can use an alternative statement. Something like, “I have terrible stomach pains and can’t stop using the bathroom,” will cue in the nurse to your problem.
    • Ask the nurse if she can give you an excuse for your teachers, a place to lie down, or even an anti-diarrheal. The nurse may also have clear liquids or other treatments more readily at her disposal.
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    Distract from the sound. Your stomach may make telltale rumbling sounds if you have diarrhea. If you’re in class and your stomach decides to participate as well, use different tactics to divert attention from your bowels. You can always be honest and say, “I’m sick and I apologize that my stomach is rumbling,” or laugh it off with an, “I’m sick and my stomach wants to answer the questions in my place.” In addition, you can also distract from the sound by:
    • Coughing
    • Sneezing
    • Shifting in your chair
    • Laughing if the timing is appropriate
    • Asking a question
    • Ignoring the sound altogether

Part 3
Treating Symptoms

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    Drink plenty of clear liquids. Chances are that you’re losing a lot of fluids and valuable electrolytes if you have diarrhea. Making sure you stay hydrated not only can help you feel better but also flush out your system more quickly.[9]
    • Try and get at least 8 ounces of clear liquids every hour. Clear liquids include water, broths, juices and even clear carbonated beverages.[10] Broth and clear soups such as chicken soup and 100% fruit juices are good choices because they will also help replace electrolytes.[11]
    • Consider carrying your liquid with you in a bottle or Thermos. Let your teacher or the school nurse know why you have it in case there is a problem. For example, say, “I know it’s against policy to have a drink, but I’ve been very sick and need to make sure I’m drinking enough water throughout the day.” You can also ask your parent or a school nurse to provide a note as an explanation for your teacher.
    • Avoid drinking any caffeinated drinks like coffee or black tea. You should also not drink alcohol.[12]
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    Eat simple foods. If you have diarrhea, your stomach is probably very upset and needs a chance to rest. Eating according to the BRAT diet-- which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast-- can settle your stomach and intestinal tract as well as replace electrolytes.[13]
    • Have boiled potatoes, crackers, and gelatin at lunch if you can. Consider carrying your lunch and snacks such as soda crackers can also help ease your stomach.[14] Other good options are bananas, apricots, and sports drinks.[15]
    • If you bring perishable foods to school, make sure that you can put your lunch in a refrigerator until it's time to eat it. You can also keep your food cold with ice packs in your lunch box.
    • Try eating foods such as soft fruit, vegetables, and cereal if you are feeling better.[16]
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    Avoid heavy or spicy foods. It’s important to be gentle on your stomach if you are hungry when you have diarrhea. Stay away from spicy, fatty, or fried foods as well as dairy products. These could further upset your stomach and make your diarrhea worse[17]
    • Avoid adding any spices to your food or eating spicy meals at lunch, such as Mexican food. These can irritate your stomach lining.
    • Ask if there are alternatives to eat and drink for lunch if you can’t find something other than the daily meal and milk.
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    Take an anti-diarrheal medication. Consider trying an anti-diarrheal medication such as loperamide (Imodium A-D) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). These may reduce the number of bowel movements you have and put your mind at ease in class or when you’re walking through the halls.[18]
    • Be aware that anti-diarrheal medications don’t work for all kinds diarrhea and may not be safe for children. Take anti-diarrheal medications only if you are sure your diarrhea isn’t caused by a bacteria or parasite and/ or if you are over the age of 12. If not, you may need to see your doctor to get proper treatment.
    • Make sure to follow the packaging instructions if you do take an anti-diarrheal medication. If you don’t, it could make you more sick.
    • Ask your doctor to prescribe a medication such as codeine phosphate, diphenoxylate, or cholestyramine if you have severe diarrhea. These medications should only be used under the supervision of your doctor to prevent serious and potentially life-threatening complications.[19]
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    Take it easy as much as possible. Moving around too much may also make you feel worse and as though you need to use the bathroom more often. Don’t exert yourself more than you need in classes. Consider sitting out for classes such as gym or extracurricular sports.[20]
    • Take your teachers a note from your parents explaining that you are sick and need to not exert yourself too much.
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    Carry wipes. It’s common for your bum to get irritated by wiping too often and rough school toilet paper can make this worse. Keep some soft and moist wipes in your bag to prevent or soothe any discomfort you may have.
    • Try either regular moist wipes or even baby wipes, which are generally gentle on skin.[21]


  • See if you can take the day off of school instead of being worried about having an accident.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Discreet Bodily Etiquette | Surviving School