Looking after and protecting your skin is a very important way of preventing injury and infection. Any break in the skin can make you more likely to get an infection there.
Lymphoedema can cause your skin to become dry and itchy, making cracks and breaks more likely. This can increase the risk of infection but can usually be prevented by moisturising often. You can buy moisturising creams from your local chemist or get them on prescription from your doctor. Your lymphoedema specialist can suggest which creams might be best for you.
Reduce the risk of infection
Here’s some advice about reducing the risk of infection if you have, or are at risk of, lymphoedema:
- Keep your skin clean and dry. Use soap-free cleansers that don’t dry your skin.
- Wash with warm water every day. Carefully dry in between fingers or toes of the limb that is at risk of lymphoedema, to prevent fungal infections.
- Moisturise gently every day with unperfumed cream or oil to help your skin stay in good condition.
- When applying moisturiser, the last stroke should be downwards (in the direction of hair growth) to prevent the moisturiser blocking the hair follicles (folliculitis).
- Treat even small grazes and cuts straight away. Wash and dry the area thoroughly, apply antiseptic cream and cover, if necessary.
- See your GP straight away if you develop any signs of infection in the affected area (see below).
- Do not get a tattoo on the limb that is affected or at risk.
- If possible, avoid having needles put into your affected hand/arm or foot/leg when you have blood taken, injections, vaccinations, a drip (infusion), or acupuncture. Although there’s no strong medical evidence to support this, most lymphoedema experts think it’s a wise precaution to take to reduce the risk of infection.
It may be helpful to wear a lymphoedema alert bracelet to remind healthcare professionals that the affected arm should not be used for needles. These are available from the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN).
Protect yourself from inflammation
Here’s some advice about protecting your skin if you have, or are at risk of, lymphoedema:
- Protect the skin on the affected area from the sun by covering up with clothes or wearing sun cream with a sun protection factor (SPF) 50. Never use a sunbed.
- Use insect repellent to prevent insect bites as they can lead to inflammation and infection. Speak to your pharmacist about the best product. You need a repellent with at least 50% DEET. This is the active ingredient in insect repellent. If you’re stung on, or near, the affected area, see your GP for advice.
- Avoid using saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms, and try not to sit too close to a fire or other heat source.
- To avoid scalding yourself, always test the water’s temperature before you have a bath and shower.
- Be careful when playing sports that may result in an injury to the arm or leg with, or at risk of, lymphoedema.