When it comes to lymphedema and allergies, there is relatively little solid evidence that the two are directly linked. But that’s not to say there is no connection. Indeed, there is some anecdotal evidence that lymphedema flare-ups may be linked to worsening allergy symptoms. Accordingly, addressing your allergies may help with managing lymphedema symptoms.
Consult your doctor for recommendations regarding possible over-the-counter or prescription medications, and other strategies, to help minimize the effects of allergies. Of course, allergies represent an inappropriate reaction by the body’s immune system to a substance identified as “foreign”. When the immune system overreacts to tree pollen, for example, people often experience symptoms that may range from red, swollen, itchy eyes, to congestion, sneezing, and excess production of mucus.
Inflammation is the Common Connection
The common thread between lymphedema and allergies is inflammation. Inflammation is the result of a cascade of events triggered by the immune system in response to a perceived threat. When the threat is a potential disease-causing microbe, such as a bacterium, this response helps protect us from infection and disease.
But many perceived threats, such as those posed by tree or flower pollen, are simply not appropriate. Tree pollen cannot cause illness. But the flood of chemicals released by the immune system can cause symptoms that resemble illness.
Lymphedema is now recognized as an inflammatory condition. Whether inflammation triggers lymphedema initially, or develops only later, in response to the dysfunction and tissue damage caused by lymph buildup in affected tissues, is still somewhat unclear. Certain risk factors may play a role in the development of lymphedema (e.g. radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery for breast cancer treatment). These risk factors are typically associated with damage to local lymph vessels, which is presumed to affect those vessels’ ability to drain lymph. But not everyone who undergoes these treatments will go on to develop subsequent lymphedema. Thus, the common causes of lymphedema remain somewhat unclear.
Emerging evidence suggests there’s another factor at play: inflammation. Some people have immune systems that are a bit too eager to respond to perceived threats by promoting inflammation. And this may trigger the events that result in chronic lymphedema. The link between allergies and lymphedema is unproven, but it’s consistent with logic. A recent report found, for instance, that a patient with chronic infections in the hand, related to allergic eczema, eventually developed lymphedema of the affected hand and arm. The damage may have been precipitated by bacterial infections related to the allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation).
Summer is Coming — Be Prepared
Given that many allergies are seasonal, meaning they occur in response to pollens released in spring and summer, these seasons may be especially challenging to lymphedema sufferers. Other stressors have been linked to flare-ups. These may include too much sun exposure, getting too hot, overexertion, or even fighting off a common illness, such as a cold. Avoiding these issues may be your best bet against summer-related flare-ups. As summer approaches, it may be wise to prepare for this more challenging season by stocking up on summer-appropriate lymphedema wear, washing solutions, and skin and body lotions. We have a wide range of colorful lymphedema sleeves, for example, that can take your summer wardrobe from predictable and ho-hum to eye-catching and fun. Find your summer products at the Lymphedema Products shop.