Managing your lymphoedema at home
What is lymphoedema?
You may have been diagnosed with lymphoedema, which is swelling that develops because of a build-up of lymph fluid in the body’s tissues. Lymphoedema happens when the lymphatic system is not working properly and can happen anywhere in the body including the arms, legs, head, neck, chest and genital area.
Your treatment will include skin care advice, wearing a compression garment or bandage to reduce swelling and the risk of infection, movement and exercise and perhaps even using a gentle massage technique to help move fluid around the body.
It is important that you are an active participant in your care and understand the benefits of simple daily steps that will enable you to stay well.
How to discuss the above issues with your nurse are covered in this video whilst, at the same time, encouraging you to take better control of your lymphoedema.
How do I know if my lymphoedema or swelling is getting worse?
You should speak to your specialist nurse at Accelerate for advice as soon as you notice any of the following:
You may notice your clothing, shoes or jewellery (rings or watches) feeling tighter than usual, even before you see any swelling.
Changes in sensation in the limb
The limb or area may feel heavy, tight, full or stiff.
Changes with your skin
The affected area may feel tight, stretched or a thicker texture, and sometimes it can be dry, flaky, rough or scaly.
Aching in the affected area
You may feel some discomfort or an aching sensation where the swelling occurs.
Sometimes if your swelling deteriorates in your legs, fluid will begin to ooze from your skin. This can cause you great discomfort and can lead to bigger problems. If you have what is called ‘leaky legs’ you should contact your nurse and receive support as soon as possible
Redness and swelling
If you experience a noticeable tightening of your skin and it becomes shiny, red and hot you should contact your doctor or nurse as you may need some additional treatment
Looking after your skin when you have lymphoedema
Looking after your skin and reducing the risk of infection (cellulitis) is very important to help you stay well and avoid any need to go into hospital. The importance of this is described in the below video.
Guidance on how to look after your skin to help prevent infection
- Keep your skin clean and dry – cleanse daily using a soap substitute, such as aqueous cream, Oilatum or Neutrogena soap bars or an E45 wash
- Moisturise your skin daily, at least once a day with an emollient or scent-free moisturiser
- Clean any cuts or grazes straight away with clean water, then put an antiseptic cream on and cover with a dressing
- Protect your skin from the sun by wearing a high factor sun cream or cover up with clothes
- Avoid hot baths, saunas and steam rooms because this can increase swelling
- Avoid extremes of temperature that can dry your skin – including hot, cold or windy weather
- Don’t wear tight clothing or jewellery
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time if you have leg swelling
- Don’t have injections, blood taken, or your blood pressure checked on the affected area
Washing your legs – home application and treatment
Part of the secret to getting this done well, is to prepare everything before you start. You will need:
- A bowl which is large enough to fit your foot in filled with clean, warm water
- A dressing pack and gloves
- Non scented moisturiser or emollient cream. Remember if you have been advised to use a steroid cream you should apply this as you have been previously directed by your nurse or specialist
Once you have everything together and you are ready to change your dressing, first watch the film below, which takes you through the whole process.
We would like to thank Alison Schofield for making this short video available to us.
Please remember that a dressing can stay in place for up to 7 days unless it becomes loose, leaks or becomes uncomfortable.
What to look our for when applying compression hosiery, bandages or wrap systems
When the skin is clean, dry and moisturised (and a dressing if needed has been applied) you can apply your compression hosiery or wrap system firmly to begin the reduction of swelling and set you on the right path for managing your lymphoedema. Compression bandaging is normally only applied by your nurse, never apply this unless advised to do so.
Your garments may come in different brands and sizes this is to suit individual comfort to ensure the garment is worn correctly. You may have a full or partial limb garment dependant on the extent of the swelling. Its important to wear the full system you have been given to ensure a good squeeze (compression) to the affected area. Applying your garment can be tricky, practice is the key and ensuring you are sitting somewhere comfortable will also help. It takes time to learn how to do this well and if you’re struggling please do not give up.
These videos will help you ensure correct, firm and comfortable application of your garment. If your garment or wrap becomes loose remember to re apply for maximum consistent support. If further guidance is needed please speak to your lymphoedema Nurse.
A general guide for lymphoedema compression garment application
How to apply and remove a wrap system
Hosiery and garments – home application and treatment
If you find it difficult to apply your hosiery or garment, there are application aids which can be made available for you. Please ask your doctor or nurse about them. Here’s a video on how to apply and remove compression hosiery
If you do not see the brand of applicator you use here and would like further help please contact us at Accelerate.