Traveling with Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that patients must work to manage in order to continue living a normal life. Among the various challenges facing lymphedema patients is the issue of how best to prepare for travel. The idea is to make any journey as safe and comfortable as possible, while avoiding anything that might make your symptoms worse.
We’ve assembled a simple checklist that can help you travel with confidence, secure in the knowledge that you’ve taken steps to anticipate—and prevent—any problems from cropping up on your journey.
Before your departure, check the status of your prescription medications. You’ll need to be sure you have more than enough to cover your travel time, plus any unanticipated delays. Medications should be kept in their original packaging. If traveling out of the country, consider carrying your original prescriptions, too, in case you need to refill abroad. Ask your physician to consider whether you should carry a prescription for an antibiotic, in case you develop an infection in your affected limb.
Insect Repellents: If there’s any chance you will encounter biting insects at your destination (less likely on a ski vacation; more likely on a beach vacation) you should pack appropriate insect repellent. Increasingly, ticks and mosquitoes are infecting people with any number of problematic diseases. Bite prevention is becoming increasingly important as a result.
According to objective testing, only three products deliver consistent, reliable repellent activity for up to six hours or more. Be aware that most botanicals offered as alternatives to the big three have never been shown to remain effective long enough to provide meaningful protection. Approved repellents include DEET (up to 30%), picaridin (derived from black pepper; 10-20%) or oil of lemon eucalyptus (approximately 32%).
Sunscreens: If you will be traveling somewhere where you may be exposed to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, be sure to pack enough effective sunscreen to last. Tissue affected by lymphedema may be especially sensitive to sunburn.
Anti-fungal Powders and/or Creams: Be sure to pack some anti-fungal powder for sprinkling between your toes while traveling. It’s especially important for people affected by lymphedema to avoid the development of any topical fungal infections, as these may further damage delicate skin tissue, and invite infections.
Pre-travel Inoculations: Travel to many foreign destinations may require special immunizations before your departure. Be sure to avoid having these injections in your affected limbs. Also, it may be helpful to space out multiple inoculations, to minimize any reactions that may occur.
Travel: If at all possible, consider booking airline tickets in Business Class. You will be afforded considerably more leg room and comfort. Avoiding deep vein thrombosis (DVT), by moving around occasionally, is especially important for people suffering from venous insufficiency issues.
And speaking of ski destinations, be aware that the altitude at your destination may play a significant role in how your body reacts. The lower air pressure at higher altitudes may exacerbate lymphedema symptoms, or trigger the onset of a new instance.
At Your Destination
- Seek help if you need to lift and/or load any heavy packages or luggage. Trying to do it yourself could trigger the onset of lymphedema, or make things worse.
- Wear comfortable, climate-appropriate clothing, and comfortable shoes.
- Pack or wear your compression garments and be sure they’re in good shape before you leave. Travel by air can exacerbate symptoms of lymphedema. It’s important to keep all affected areas covered, and appropriately compressed, while in the air.
- Be careful to avoid burns, bites, scrapes, or brushes with marine corals. But enjoy your vacation time!
Frances SP, Rigby LM, Chow WK. Comparative laboratory and field evaluation of repellent formulations containing deet and lemon eucalyptus oil against mosquitoes in Queensland, Australia. J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2014 Mar;30(1):65-7.
Van Roey K, Sokny M, Denis L, et al. Field Evaluation of Picaridin Repellents Reveals Differences in Repellent Sensitivity between Southeast Asian Vectors of Malaria and Arboviruses. Vosshall L, ed. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2014;8(12):e3326. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003326.