Managing Lymphedema in the Summer
Summer poses special challenges for managing lymphedema. Summer heat and humidity can make it difficult to wear appropriate medical-grade compression wear comfortably, for instance. No one likes to sweat. Tight compression garments can seem especially bothersome if they trap heat and leave your skin damp and clammy.
And lymphedema patients face other seasonal challenges as well.
For example, the skin in affected areas is especially vulnerable to damage, whether it’s from biting or stinging insects, sunburn, or simple scrapes suffered while hiking, walking or working outdoors.
Here are some suggestions for maximizing your comfort, and reducing any potential problems, while managing your lymphedema in the summer.
You should always care for your compression garments by keeping them clean and fresh with regular washings. Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for proper care. It’s also important to ensure your garments are appropriately sized so they fit properly. It may be helpful to have yourself measured for fit both before and after the summer swelter season. Note that the use of sunscreens and other substances may affect fabric life.
Prevent Sun Damage and Insect Bites
For most people, sunburn and insect bites are annoyances, at worst. But for lymphedema patients, they can be especially problematic. Getting out-of-doors is a great way to get some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. But you may need to take special precautions to protect yourself from summer’s hazards. Wear sunscreen—and insect repellent, if appropriate—when exposed to summer sun and biting insects. Note, though, that you should not apply either of these underneath your compression garment(s).
Three compounds are safe and effective for meaningful insect repulsion. They are deet, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. The latter smells like citronella and may stain some fabrics. It may also provoke an allergic reaction among people who happen to be allergic to it.
The others are effective, but picaridin, derived from black pepper, may be more acceptable to some. Please note that no other substances have ever been proven to provide effective insect-repelling activity. While some botanical extracts may exhibit modest repelling activity initially, this effect wears off far too quickly to be useful. If there’s a good chance you will need to fend off mosquitos, for instance, you should only rely on one of the above ingredients. They are effective for at least six hours of continuous protection.
Sunscreen is, of course, recommended to protect you from sunburn. Use sunscreen with SPF30 or greater protection on exposed skin. Avoid applying this or any non-recommended lotion on the skin in areas affected by lymphedema.
Beyond protecting exposed skin from sunburn and insect bites, you will need to take special care to ensure the skin in your affected areas remains intact and clean at all times. Even the smallest breaks in the skin can serve as routes for infection. Consider carrying antiseptic wipes and antibiotic creams, as well as bandages, for on-site cleaning and protection of any compromised skin while out hiking or otherwise enjoying the outdoors.
Lymphedema reduces your skin’s ability to defend and repair itself properly—making anything from a simple scratch or scrape, to a bite or puncture wound— potentially dangerous. Never ignore any such breaks in the affected skin, especially if redness, swelling or heat develop. Have them treated immediately. Take common-sense precautions to avoid wounds, such as wearing gloves while gardening.
Swimming in summer is part of the fun of the season. It’s okay for lymphedema patients, but if you have lymphedema of the legs or ankles, you will need to take precautions to avoid fungal infections.
Wear footwear, even in public showers, and apply moisturizing lotions on the affected skin to avoid excessive dryness or cracking. After bathing, be sure to rinse off any saltwater or chlorinated pool water and dry thoroughly. Reapply an appropriate moisturizing lotion as needed.
Stay Active, Keep Cool
Staying active is both fun and potentially beneficial. By all means remain active, especially in the summer when the great outdoors beckons. Exercise may actually help improve your lymphedema prognosis.
But keep in mind that sweating profusely means you’ll need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and you’ll need to be careful to avoid wearing damp compression garments for extended periods, as these can encourage the growth of bacteria or fungi.
At Lymphedema Products we carry any number of compression garments that feature specialized fabrics designed to maximize coolness, wick away sweat, and even to discourage the growth of bacteria and fungi, through the use of microscopic silver particles woven into fabrics.
Finally, take full advantage of the modern convenience and comfort of air conditioning when not outdoors, to keep yourself—and your affected areas—as cool as possible.