You may worry that your lymphoedema could get worse if you travel. If you are at risk of getting lymphoedema, you may worry that travelling might trigger it. But by planning ahead and preparing, you should be able to manage any problems and enjoy your time away.
It is important to carry on with your usual routine for looking after your affected limb. But there are other things you need to be careful about when travelling.
Before you go
If you have a lymphoedema specialist, talk to them about your travel plans before you go. You may find the following tips useful to help you plan ahead:
- If you need any vaccinations before your holiday, it is important not to have any injections in the affected limb.
- If you are planning a more active holiday, talk to your lymphoedema specialist before you go. They can advise you how to plan your trip so you don’t put too much stress on the affected area.
- If you are flying a long distance and have lymphoedema, your specialist may recommend wearing a compression garment. You will need to wear it for a few hours before the flight, during the flight and for a few hours after.
- Any increased swelling you might notice during the flight should go down afterwards.
- Keeping your affected limb moving when flying is important. Ask your lymphoedema specialist what exercises might help before you go away. When booking your flight, you may want to ask your airline for an aisle seat, so you have more room to move the affected limb.
- Ask your GP or lymphoedema specialist to give you some antibiotics. This is in case you develop cellulitis while you are away. It can be helpful for your lymphoedema specialist to speak with your GP about this.
- Make sure you pack an anti-septic cream. This is in case you get a cut, scratch or bite on the affected limb.
- Pack an insect repellent spray or cream. You need repellent containing at least 50% DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). DEET is the main ingredient that makes insect repellent work. Your pharmacist or travel health clinic can give you advice on which one might be best.
- If you are taking any prescription drugs with you, make sure you have enough to last and have a letter from your doctor with you.
- Make sure you have travel insurance.
During your journey
Here are some tips on how you can reduce your risk of getting lymphoedema when you are travelling:
- Avoid sitting in one position during the whole journey.
- When you travel on a plane or train, move around a lot and do gentle stretching exercises.
- During longer car journeys, stop regularly and get out and walk around.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes.
- Wear flight socks that fit well. Your GP or specialist nurse can give you advice if you cannot find a pair that fit.
- Use a suitcase with wheels – this can be easier than carrying a heavy bag.
While you are away
There are things you can do to help with lymphoedema when you are away:
- If you have lymphoedema in your leg, do not walk barefoot on a beach or around a swimming pool. This reduces the risk of cuts and possible infection in your foot.
- Do not get sunburnt as this can increase swelling. If you are in a hot climate, it is important to wear suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of 50.
- Sit in the shade or cover the affected area with a hat, long-sleeved shirt or loose trousers.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Sea salt and chlorine make the skin extra dry. If you go swimming, you should shower afterwards and put moisturiser on. Swimming or even just moving around in water is very good for lymphoedema. You do not need to wear a compression garment while swimming, because the water will create enough pressure.
- Avoid saunas and hot baths. Keep the affected limb as cool as possible.
- Avoid lifting and pulling heavy bags with your affected arm. Ask someone to help.
- If you start to get signs of an infection, let a doctor know straight away. Signs of an infection could include flu-like symptoms, a high temperature, redness, rash or heat in the affected limb, or increased swelling. If you have antibiotics with you, start taking them as soon as possible.
You can also contact the Lymphoedema Support Network, which has a more detailed guide on holidays and travel for people with lymphoedema.
The Lymphoedema Support Network can also give you a card that explains you have lymphoedema, in case you have an accident or need medical care.