Summer is a time for picnics, bike rides, and grilling with friends. After a cold, dark winter, getting outside to hike or take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood is something that many look forward to doing.

However, the humidity and heat can make managing lymphedema more challenging. Compression garments can be hot and cause increased sweating and discomfort. The risk for infections may also increase with the increase in scratches from the garden, sunburns, and bug bites.

So, then what is the best way for a patient to not just get through the warmer months but to actually enjoy them?

Here are some top tips on managing lymphedema in the summer so you can stay cool with your family, friends, and pets.

Protect your Skin

Your skin is the gateway to infections. Doing your best to care for your skin to limit the risk of possible infections can keep you healthy and assist in avoiding or minimizing flare-ups at all costs. The three primary protections you need in the summer are from sun, scratches, and insect bites.

Sun Protection

The sun’s strength is more significant as it sits higher during this season. Sunburns can lead to skin damage with potential blistering and inflammation. These can lead to openings in the skin and increased blood flow to an area, potentially causing further swelling. Wearing sunscreen daily is vital for skin protection. Make sure to look for sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. The sunscreen can break down garments, so avoid putting on your garment right after applying it. Be sure to wear it in any other areas of potential exposure and reapply every two hours

Scratches and Cut Protection

Whether you enjoy being out in the garden or are an avid hiker, it’s good to be aware of skincare for scratches and cuts. Wear gloves while picking weeds or cutting stems and wear long socks or pants while hiking to limit and prevent cuts. Despite taking every precaution, scrapes and cuts do happen, and when they do, be sure to wash the area well with soap and water. Then, place an antibiotic cream over the cut and cover it with a sterile bandage or gauze to help keep it clean and block out bacteria.

Insect Bite Protection

Humans are not the only species out and more active in the summer. Insects and bugs are out in full force. Bug bites may be just a mere annoyance to most, but if someone is more prone to infection, like those living with lymphedema, it is more important to take precautions. Bug bites cause inflammation and open up the skin and are a portal for bacteria to get into your body especially if they are itchy.  Using a good insect repellant with DEET or picaridin can help keep insects and bugs from biting and away. If you get bit, clean the area well and avoid itching by using a cold pack.

Stay Hydrated

When someone is dehydrated, the lymph nodes swell, which can suppress the lymphatic system. This can make someone more susceptible or prone to illness, inflammation, or infection. It can also cause congestion of fluid which can lead to swelling. So due to this, staying hydrated is essential to keep the lymphatic system healthy.

So how much water should someone drink a day? The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids for women. This will vary on an individual’s size and activity level. The fluid doesn’t all need to be water. We get fluid from various foods like fruits and vegetables, too. So make sure to grab some of that watermelon at your next family barbeque.

Stay Active

Your muscles act as a pump to the lymphatic system. Muscles activate around lymphatic vessels to help push fluid through small valves inside. Without your muscles, the lymphatic vessels struggle to move lymphatic fluid out of an area because the lymphatic system doesn’t have a natural pump. So, exercise and physical activity are essential for the lymphatic system to work and keep the lymphatic fluid moving.

Two people high fiving

Two individuals are high fiving after one of them on the bike stopped

Focus on finding exercises or activities you enjoy. Go for a walk, get out in the garden, or take a bike ride. Be sure to wear your compression garment during these activities to support your lymphatic system.

If you’re looking for a chance to take a break from compression, stay cool, and get active, try swimming. The water places a natural compression on your body. You are in for every 12 inches (or 30 cm) depth of water; the water will give you 20-30mmHg pressure. That’s the same amount as a basic compression garment! Try a local aqua exercise class or find a local pool for a great way to cool off and support your lymphatic system.

Garment Options and Cares

Garments can be hot, and someone is more prone to sweating and getting too warm in them all day, especially when outside. Garments will hold in more moisture and heat, increasing bacteria or fungal growth. Having an extra set or two of garments available to rotate through can keep the skin dry and avoid wearing damp garments for an extended time.

Washing garments daily is important for hygiene and garment care, but it is even more crucial for overall skincare in the summer months.

There are also different compression garments on the market with specialized fabrics to stay cool and wick away sweat. There are various garments made with silver. Silver has a natural antimicrobial and anti-odor property, which can provide extra benefits in the summer months.

Use a Pneumatic Compression Pump

AIROS Compression Pump

AIROS 8 Lymphedema Compression Device

Although it’s ideal to wear compression and stay active all summer, it’s not realistic for everyone due to the heat and humidity. If someone cannot tolerate wearing compression consistently, it’s essential to take time for lymphatic drainage and use a pneumatic compression pump to reduce congestion and fluid build-up. A compression pump, such as AIROS Medical’s compression device line, is also an excellent tool during the summer because the body retains more fluid naturally with humidity and heat. Even if someone is diligent with self-care routines and compression, it’s difficult to avoid an increase in swelling. Using a pump once a day is a fantastic way to manage lymphedema so that you can make the most of these long, beautiful days. To learn more about the AIROS product line, visit our website at https://www.airosmedical.com/compression-therapy-products/

 

References:

Dietary reference intakes for electrolytes and water. U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/dietary-reference-intakes-for-electrolytes-and-water.

Dietary reference intakes for electrolytes and water. U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/dietary-reference-intakes-for-electrolytes-and-water.

Pendergast DR, Moon RE, Krasney JJ, Held HE, Zamparo P. Human Physiology in an Aquatic Environment. Compr Physiol. 2015 Sep 20;5(4):1705-50. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140018. PMID: 26426465.

Weenink RP and Wingelaar TT (2021) The Circulatory Effects of Increased Hydrostatic Pressure Due to Immersion and Submersion. Front. Physiol. 12:699493. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.699493



Kelly Sturm
Author:
Kelly Sturm

Kelly Sturm is a physical therapist, Certified Lymphedema Therapist, and one of the first national board-certified oncology clinical specialists in the United States. She serves as an instructor at Concordia University’s Physical Therapy Program and a guest speaker at various conferences, programs, and community groups.

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