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. Good moisturising can help to prevent this. You can buy suitable creams from your local chemist or get them on prescription from your doctor. Your lymphoedema specialist will give you further advice.
Reduce the risk of infection
- Keep your skin clean and dry. Use soap-free cleansers that don’t dry your skin.
- Moisturise gently every day with unperfumed cream or oil to help your skin stay supple and in good condition.
- When applying moisturiser, the last stroke should be downwards (in the direction of hair growth) to prevent blocking of the hair follicles (folliculitis) with moisturiser.
- Treat even small grazes and cuts straight away. Wash the area thoroughly, apply antiseptic cream and cover, if necessary.
- See your GP straight away if you develop any signs of infection.
- If possible, avoid having needles put into your affected hand/arm or foot/leg when you have blood taken, injections, 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. Don’t get a tattoo on the limb that is affected or at risk.
- It may be helpful to wear a lymphoedema alert bracelet to remind health care professionals that the affected arm should not be used for needles. These are available from the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN).
Protect yourself from inflammation
- Protect your skin from the sun by covering up with clothes or wearing suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Never use a sunbed.
- Use insect repellent to prevent insect bites as they can lead to inflammation and infection. If you’re stung on, or near, the affected area, see your GP for advice.
- Avoid extreme temperatures. Too much heat can increase the swelling so always test the water before you have a bath or shower. Avoid using saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms, and don’t sit too close to a fire or other heat source.
- Be careful when playing sports that may result in an injury to an arm or leg that has, or is at risk of, lymphoedema.