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Managing Lymphedema During the Summer

Today's Medicine
Published: June 21, 2019

 

If you live with lymphedema, and if you live in the Midwest, chances are that you notice more discomfort and swelling when summer heats up. While there’s nothing you can do about the weather, there are some things you can do to increase your comfort and safety in the heat and humidity.


Understanding the lymphatic system

To understand and best avoid summertime swelling, it’s important to understand the lymphatic system.

Your lymphatic system, which is a big part of your immune system, has its own natural rhythm that pumps fluid and waste through your body. When this process is interrupted or slowed, fluid can accumulate and cause swelling. Temperature extremes – both hot and cold – are primary causes for a slower pumping system.

While compression and manual lymph drainage – a gentle massage technique – are helpful once swelling has set in, it’s important that you try to avoid that fluid buildup when possible.
 

Common causes of summertime swelling and infection


Air travel

Summer is a popular time for vacationing, but air travel can be difficult for those living with lymphedema. While in the air, a plane’s cabin pressure becomes much lower than it is at ground level. Like heat, low pressure can slow the body’s natural lymphatic rhythm and lead to swelling.

Tip: Wear compression garments as a precaution during air travel, and be sure to leave them on for two hours after landing to allow your body to adjust.


Sun

You already know that too much sun can result in a burn. Sunburn can raise your body temperature and cause an inflammatory response, both of which can cause swelling.



Tip: Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day and apply sunscreen liberally when heading outdoors. . Clothing with moisture wicking properties will help keep you cool and may help offer some protection from the sun’s UVA rays.


Insects

Your skin isn’t only exposed to more sun in the summer; it also comes under attack from mosquitos and other insects. Aside from being an annoyance, bug bites can also increase your risk for infection.

 

Tip: Use insect repellent and wear light-colored clothing that covers your skin. Mosquitos love wooded areas and standing water, so try to avoid those spots during dusk hours. Also, try to avoid scratching the bites you do receive.


Nicks, cuts and scrapes

Outdoor activities such as gardening, camping and fishing can increase your risk for nicks and cuts. These, too, can increase your risk for infection.


 

Tip: Clean any break in the skin – including insect bites or stings – with soap and water or alcohol wipes, and apply antibiotic ointment. Monitor for any signs or symptoms of infection. Don’t delay in seeking medical treatment if you notice warmth, redness, pain or increased swelling on or near the site of the wound.


Swimming

Water activities, such as swimming or aerobics can provide cooling and compression to your affected limb. But swimming in a natural body of water, such as a lake or pond, can invite infection if there is a break in your skin.

 

Tip: Avoid the water if you do have an open sore, and be sure to wear water shoes to prevent cuts or injuries.


Staying healthy and hydrated all year long

Maintaining a healthy weight and diet are important in keeping lymphedema well-controlled during the summer and all year round.

Remember: Poor diet choices can cause chronic inflammation, which has been implicated in several cancers as well as in the development of lymphedema itself. Moderation is key. And so is hydration. Drinking more fluid won’t cause lymphedema, but follow recommendations from your physician if you have congestive heart failure, which can cause a different type of swelling.

If you have questions, have concerns or need to be fit for a compression garment, your certified lymphedema team at Methodist is more than happy to assist! Please note that physician orders are necessary for lymphedema treatment and compression garments.

More resources

Wendy Buchholz

About the Author:

Wendy Buchholz, OTR/L, CLT-LANA, is an Occupational Therapist/LANA Certified Lymphedema Therapist

She works with patients every day at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center.

See More Articles by Wendy Buchholz