“Recurrent episodes of cellulitis can start a vicious cycle of infection and worsening edema.”
Cellulitis is a real concern for patients with lymphedema, as it is for others who are at risk. I know someone who had cellulitis has and because of that experience I feel I may be able to recognize cellulitis early. However the signs and symptoms of infections are many and vary. Pain, redness, heat and swelling are common, but simply feeling unwell for several weeks may also indicate infections.
Cellulitis or erysipelas – an infection of the skin and the tissues below the skin - are considered a common complication of lymphedema. Recognizing cellulitis and seeking treatment early is vital. It is a very serious infection that often requires hospitalization and an aggressive course of antibiotics. A lymphedema patient needs to be vigilant to prevent cellulitis or to manage it, if and when it occurs.
Practices that reduce your risk of this complication begin with control of the swelling of the affected body part with compression garments. It is important to maintain soft and subtle skin through effective cleansing with mild pH balanced cleansers and equally important, complete drying of skin, between toes, in crevices, nail beds and skin folds. The use of non-scented hypoallergenic moisturizer is recommended.
Skin and nail care are not just cosmetic concerns; they are listed among the key areas to manage if you have lymphedema. Fungal infections and areas of dermatitis need medical attention. Minor cuts and scrapes should be cleaned immediately with lots of water and treated with antibiotic cream and then covered for protection.
It is also important to keep eating healthy and to exercise regularly. A healthy body is better able to fight infections.
For me the possibility of cellulitis is very sobering and there have been times when I was overwhelmed emotionally by my potential future lymphedema complications. As I adjusted, I have begun to think of cellulitis as a huge reason to be compliant with my healthy routines. I may develop cellulitis, despite my best efforts. However, it won’t be because I was ignorant of the risks, nor will it be that I was in denial. In the meantime, I recognize that cellulitis risk is a huge deterrent to my relaxing any part of the healthy routines I have adopted. That is a good thing.