By Pam O’Connor
Pondera North Lakes remedial & lymphatic massage therapist
With Spring officially over and the weather in full summer swing, it’s time to ensure your skin will go the distance over summer, especially if you have lymphoedema.
One of my previous blogs focused on caring for dry skin in the winter, but it’s just as important to look after your skin in the summer.
The skin is our first line of defence against bacteria, viruses, insects and the elements. So it’s still important to look after our skin, whether you have lymphoedema or not.
Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling condition most commonly affecting the limbs but also other parts of the body. The swelling usually worsens in summer because when itheats up, the blood vesselssupplying the capillaries in the skin dilate. Increased blood flowto the surface tissues under the skin means that more heat is lost, allowing the body to cool down. This increased blood flow also results in more lymph fluid escaping into the tissues of the body, leading to an increase in swelling if your lymphatic system is impaired.
Increased physical activity also has the same effect. Too much exercise or activity in the heat of the summer sun is not a good combination!
Therefore, it’s important for people with lymphoedema to stay cool in summer to allow the blood vessels to constrict and help keep swelling under control.
It makes sense to stay cool in a Brisbane summer, especially when the humidity is sky-high. Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of day but if it’s unavoidable, wear a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin. If you do get sunburnt, apply some soothing ointment or aloe vera gel to help cool and repair the skin.
Better to stay in the shade or indoors, turn on fans or airconditioning (even better!) and cool off with a nice swim.
Many people with lymphoedema need to wear compression garments and these can feel rather uncomfortable in the summer heat. Yet it is even more important to wear them when it’s hot to keep the increased swelling under good control.
One tip totry is spritz your garments with water while wearing them. The moisture in the garment will simply evaporate and help you to stay cool – if you can catch a breeze, even better!
You may be eligible for a government concession to help with the cost of installing airconditioning at home. The Medical Cooling and Heating Electricity Concession Scheme helps people with a chronic medical condition which is aggravated by changes in temperature. Visit https://www.qld.gov.au/community/cost-of-living-support/concessions/medical-concessions/medical-cooling-heating-electricity-concession-scheme for more information.
Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of exercise for people with lymphoedema so if you’ve been hibernating all winter, now is the time to don some togs and hit the pool. Not only does the activity make the muscles work and improve lymph flow, the movement of the body through the water adds a gentle resistance to have a compression and massage effect.
Summer also means mosquitoes,so apply insect repellent to avoid getting bitten. People with lymphoedema need to be more vigilant against mozzies to avoid scratching bites and risk of infection as a result. If outdoors use citronella and mozzie coils, avoid dusk and stay indoors behind insect screens where possible. Treat insect bites with itch cream, antiseptic if infected and watch out for signs of cellulitis.
An impaired lymphatic system makes people with lymphoedema more at risk of developing cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection which can spread quickly if not treated straight away with antibiotics. To avoid a trip to hospital, look out for the signs of cellulitis including fever, red rashes, increased swelling, skin looking shiny, hard and hot to touch, and feeling like coming down with the flu. People who have had cellulitis before will recognise these signs and act quickly as they are more susceptible to repeat infections. For these people it’s smart to have the antibiotic prescription ready so they can act on an attack quickly, especially if they travel frequently overseas.
Summer time also means holidays for many and for people with lymphoedema it means taking extra precautions.
If you’re planning a road trip, ensure you are wearing your garment to avoid increased swelling from sitting for extended periods. For leg lymphoedema, try to exercise while in the car (or bus or train!) by gently kicking your feet and knees and circling your ankles. For upper limbs, move your shoulders, elbows and wrists. But if you’re the designated driver, don’t do this! Take regular driver reviver stops and get out of the car, move around and practise deep breathing to get the lymphatic pump working.
If you’re flying, again it’s important to wear your garment as it’s even more difficult to move around and exercise on a plane. But what makes flying a higher risk if you have lymphoedema is the lower air pressure in the plane cabin, which can trigger or exacerbate symptoms. If you have arm lymphoedema remember to carry your heavy luggage with your good arm, not your at-risk one.
Whatever the mode of travel, remember to stay cool (in airconditioning if possible) and well hydrated. Happy and safe travels!
While our skin is not usually as dry during summer it’s still important to moisturise to prevent cracking in the skin, particularly the heel of the foot, where bacteria can enter and quickly multiply.
Our feet are largely ignored so give them some summer loving, especially if you have leg lymphoedema. Cracked heels and in-between toes make for a perfect place for bacteria to breed and quickly develop into cellulitis so it’s important to give our feet some TLC with regular moisturiser or heel balm.