A Refresher Course On How to Have a Safe Summer With Lymphedema


Summer presents unique challenges for those with lymphedema. Here are some tips to help.

Last July, I wrote an article for CURE with tips on how to have a safe summer with lymphedema. Now that we’re facing extreme temperatures from the summertime heat, I thought it might be a good time to offer a refresher course. Lymphedema is challenging any time of year but even more so in the summer months. But before we get into summertime care, let me refresh you on lymphedema, its signs, and symptoms.

The lymphatic system is a series of complicated nodes and vessels that are located throughout the body. This system is vital in removing toxins and waste from the body. When the body is unable to drain lymphatic fluid via the lymph system, lymphedema can occur. This condition results in an unnatural and uncomfortable swelling. Without the aid of compression garments, manual lymphatic drainage or other helpful ways of detoxing the lymphatic system, infection and more serious problems can occur. Lymphedema normally occurs during or after treatment for breast cancer, but can develop any time in a person’s life. It can result from other causes such as infection, scar tissue from radiation therapy, surgical removal of lymph nodes, or inherited conditions in which lymph nodes or vessels are absent therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of early lymphedema. Lymphedema is not curable but it is treatable.

Signs/symptoms of lymphedema:

· Persistent swelling (this may come and go)

· A heavy feeling of the extremity

· Tightness of skin in the affected limb

· Hardness or firmness in an extremity

· Decreased flexibility

· Ill-fitting clothes or jewelry on the affected extremity

· Weeping from the skin

Now that you have an understanding of what lymphedema is, what causes it, and how it’s treated, let’s talk about how to survive summer without exacerbating the condition. Summer presents unique challenges for those suffering from lymphedema. Heat is not a Lymphie’s friend! (A “Lymphie” is a person who suffers from the effects of lymphedema.) It’s very important to stay as cool as possible but no one wants to stay indoors all summer! Planning ahead will help reduce your risk of swelling and these tips can help you do just that:

  • Enjoy the air conditioning! Staying cool reduces swelling and is much more comfortable for Lymphies.
  • Avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day. (This is typically between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. in most places)
  • Drink plenty of water! Staying hydrated makes it easier for your body to regulate its temperature. Try to drink at least six to eight 8 oz. glasses per day. Adding lemon juice or lemon essential oil can help with detox and reduce fluid retention.
  • Don’t be afraid to sweat! Sweating helps detox the body and supports lymphatic function. Saunas and steam baths are OK with your doctor’s approval. Be sure to check with your medical team because excessive temperatures can exacerbate lymphedema. If you plan on using a hot tub, temperatures should never reach temps above 105 degrees.
  • Avoid restrictive clothing, especially those that press on lymph nodes. Underwire bras and tight jeans can impede lymph flow.
  • Use unscented powder to help keep your body dry. There are many baking soda based powders that help absorb moisture. Powder can also help prevent fungal infections.
  • Avoid sunburn at all costs! Use sunscreen. Sunburn will place an extra burden on your lymphatic system and increase swelling. Remember even if you are wearing a compression garment, it is still possible to get sunburn.
  • When swimming apply a moisture barrier cream before getting in the water. Chlorine can be drying to your skin, causing breakage and giving bacteria a way to enter and cause infection.
  • When swimming in a natural body of water, wear water shoes to avoid cutting your feet on sharp objects such as shells or stones.
  • Avoid going in the water if you have a skin break on your affected limb. An open wound can invite infection.
  • While swimming, you can wear an old compression garment or if you choose not to wear one, be sure to don some form of compression once you get out of the water. Be sure to dry your skin well before putting on your garment. Excess moisture trapped between your skin and a compression garment can promote bacterial growth and risk of infection.
  • Wear properly fitting compression garments. Get measured for a garment after the hot weather starts, and again after it has ended. This way, your garments will be better fitted to seasonal changes.
  • Clean your garment regularly to avoid deterioration from sweat, body oils, and sunscreen
  • Avoid insect bites! Apply insect repellent before going outside. Avoid using repellants containing DEET. Opt for natural repellents instead. Many essential oils repel insects. Treat insect bites immediately to avoid increased swelling or itching in that area. Wash and dry the area completely before applying antibiotic cream or ointment.
  • Always have a first aid kit handy so skin breaks, bites or injuries can be addressed quickly. You’ll need alcohol wipes to clean any damaged skin, some antibiotic cream and bandages.
  • Avoid aluminum-based antiperspirants because they block sweating and add to your toxic load. Choose natural deodorants instead.
  • Consider regular visits to a lymph drainage massage therapist. Your doctor can prescribe this therapy as part of your health care regimen. Many insurances cover 20 or more visits. This is a wonderful healthy way to pamper yourself.
  • Practice deep breathing. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm is one of the best ways to move lymph fluid through your body.
  • Get regular physical exercise. Jumping on a rebounder, or mini-trampoline, just five minutes a day is a great way to get your lymph system pumping. Walking, stretching exercises, yoga, or Pilates are helpful for stimulating and moving lymphatic fluid. Find what works best for you.

There’s no reason Lymphies can’t enjoy a safe and healthy summer. By following these tips and guidelines, summer should never be a season to dread so get out and enjoy the sunshine!






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