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How To Prevent And Control Lymphedema

Try To Avoid Infection

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© American Cancer Society 2010

Your body responds to infection by making extra fluid to fight the infection. Removal of or damage to lymph nodes and vessels makes it harder to move this extra fluid, and this can trigger lymphedema. Good hygiene and careful skin care may reduce the risk of lymphedema by helping you avoid infections. Follow these tips to help you care for the hand and arm on the side of your body that had surgery:

  • Whenever possible, have your blood drawn, IVs, and shots given in your unaffected arm. Also have flu shots and vaccinations in your unaffected arm or somewhere else, like the hip. Tell your doctor or nurse that you are at risk for lymphedema.
  • Keep your hands and cuticles soft and moist by regularly using moisturizing lotion or cream. This will help keep your skin from chapping and cracking. Push your cuticles back with a cuticle stick rather than cutting them with scissors.
  • Keep your arm clean. Clean and protect any skin openings caused by cuts, scratches, insect bites, hangnails, or torn cuticles. First, wash it with soap and water. Then use an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment and cover the area with a clean bandage. Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if you are not sure what to use.
  • Wear protective gloves when doing household chores that use chemical cleansers or steel wool, when gardening or doing yard work, and maybe when washing dishes.
  • Wear a thimble when sewing to avoid needle and pin pricks to your finger.
  • Use an electric shaver to remove underarm hair; it may be less likely to cut or irritate the skin than a blade razor or hair removal cream.
  • Use an insect repellent to avoid bug bites when outdoors. If you are stung by a bee in the affected arm, clean and put ice on the area, raise the arm, and call your doctor or nurse if the sting shows any signs of getting infected.
  • Avoid extreme cold. It can cause rebound swelling as you warm up and chapping of your skin, which may lead to infection.

NOTE: For ideas about avoiding infection in general and in specific situations, click here.

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