Lymphatic vessels help to clear away substances that can cause infections, and when these are compromised through lymphoedema, there is a higher risk of developing an infection – which can make the swelling worse. Consistent skin care and careful management of skin problems in patients with lymphoedema is important to minimise the risk of skin infections.
What is Lymphoedema?
Primary Lymphoedema is a congenital abnormality where the lymphatic system is not functioning sufficiently.
Secondary or Acquired Lymphoedema is a condition affecting the lymphatic system that can arise following surgery, lymph node dissection, radiotherapy, trauma, or other damage to the lymphatic system following cancer therapies. In breast cancer, for example, it can appear in the arm on the same side as the cancer, after lymph nodes are removed from the armpit region for cancer staging.
Lymphoedema can cause significant swelling in the affected limb due to a disruption in the free flow of lymph fluid in the body, leading to excess fluid build-up in that part of the body. This excess fluid can unfortunately act as the perfect carrier for infection.
What happens to my skin?
Lymphoedema can cause the skin to thicken, making it stiffer and drier, which encourages bacteria to collect on the skin. Broken, cracked or dry skin becomes an entry point for infection – so it’s important to keep the skin soft & supple.
If you have lymphoedema, you are also at risk of a potentially serious skin infection called cellulitis, so patient education around good skin care is vital to reduce this risk.
How can I take care of my skin?
- Keep your skin clean. Wash daily with pH neutral soap, natural soap or soap substitute, paying particular attention to any skin folds and between fingers/toes
- Dry thoroughly and gently. Take your time, and pat rather than rub the skin
- Moisturise every day. Use emollients (soaps, creams or ointments that contain little or no water) as these re-establish the skin’s natural protective layer against bacteria and irritants.
- Protect your skin. Use alcohol free insect repellent and sunscreen when outdoors, wear long sleeves, pants and gloves when doing household tasks, use an electric shaver to reduce the risk of nicks or cuts.
- Avoid scented or perfumed products
- Avoid hot baths, saunas or steam rooms
- Immediately disinfect and treat cuts, abrasions or insect bites
- Avoid injections and blood pressure testing on the affected or at-risk limb
When decent skin care is properly adhered to, the skin becomes softer and more pliable, which equates to less pain and discomfort for individuals with lymphoedema.
Central Coast skin care for lymphoedema
If you need assistance in maintaining your skin integrity, we recommend a visit to Coastal Goddess, a women’s intimate health and facial aesthetics clinic in Saratoga. They will perform a complimentary skincare consultation to determine what your skin needs.
Their staff include fully qualified doctors, so they understand the medical intricacies of conditions such as lymphoedema and regularly receive referrals for cancer patients.
For patients with lymphoedema, or those who believe they are at risk, the team at Cancer Rehabilitation & Lymphatic Solutions are here to help.
Contact us to find out more about our services and how we can support you.