Managing Lymphedema in the Summer
By: Carrie Langston
As summer approaches, patients with lymphedema need to take extra precautions to prevent a “flair-up”. Those at risk should also be on the the alert for the signs and symptoms of impending lymphedema.
Why does summer heat effect lymphedema?
Heat causes our blood vessels to expand or vasodilate. The expansion increases the amount of fluid that moves out of the blood vessels and into the tissues. When the lymphatic system does not work correctly or works inefficiently, the excess fluid does not return to the lymphatic system as it should and lymphedema results.
Staying out of the heat isn’t always an option or desired. Patients still want to enjoy summer. In this case, compression garments become a necessary summer accessory to keep the lymphatic system in check. However, limited exposure to the heat will give the lymphatic system the best chance to work optimally.
Fortunately, swimming is a great activity to stimulate the lymphatic system, but patients need to be cautioned to have a garment ready to don once they exit the pool. If swimming in a chlorinated pool, patients should shower immediately after swimming and maintain a healthy skin moisturizing regimen. It can also be helpful to wear footwear when swimming in pools or open bodies of water to avoid any scrapes or cuts from rough cement or rocks. Hot tubs are not recommended for lymphedema.
How is skin care important to lymphedema treatment and maintenance?
In the summer, it becomes even more important to be vigilant about proper skin care. Lymphedema patients should be sure to use sunscreen to protect from burns, as they can damage the very superficial lymphatic system and cause inflammation to quickly get out of control. Bug repellant also becomes essential as a single bug bite can also quickly escalate the inflammation process and an affected limb can possible double in size in a very short amount of time.
Tips for Traveling
When traveling, especially by air, it becomes very important to wear compression garments. The air pressure decreases in the cabin of as the aircraft ascends. Here are a few things that can make a flight more comfortable.
1. Whether a person has lymphedema or is at risk, a properly fitted compression garment is essential. Garments should be replaced every six months to maintain adequate compression and containment.
2. Reserve an aisle seat. This makes it easier to get in and out of the seat easily to walk the aisles to keep lymph from pooling.
3. Perform Seated exercises as often as needed to keep the lymphatic system stimulated.
4. Drink Water. Staying hydrated will also help keep lymphatic system functioning properly.
5. Remain consistent with a lymphatic supportive diet. Avoid salty food and minimize caffeine and alcohol intake.
6. Avoid carrying heavy luggage with the affected limb.
7. Break up travel into several segments, ensuring layovers with time to exercise and return to normal air pressure, giving the compromised lymphatic system time to recover before going back into the air again.
Carrie Langston is a lymphedema specialist at Lymphedema Therapy Specialists in Sioux Falls.