People suffering from lymphedema may experience cellulitis at some point in their lives and many would say that it is the worst nightmare that any lymphedema patient can face. Numerous causes could prompt an attack of cellulitis, ranging from a small cut or bruise to an insect bite or sunburn. The treatment may involve a strong dosage of antibiotics and even a stay in the hospital for 8-10 days. Almost all patients make a full recovery with the proper treatment, but if the problem is ignored, it could have serious consequences.
Cellulitis is a skin infection that is caused by a pathogen and lymphedema patients are prone to the infection because their immune system has slowed down. The initial signs that the person notices are redness, increased body temperature, chills, pain and swelling. Generally, the patient describes 'flu-like' symptoms. Red patches and streaks on the skin are known as erythema and the warm skin sensations are described as hyperthermia. The person may have a high fever with chills. Loss of appetite, irritability, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and vomiting are some of the other indications of cellulitis lymphedema patients.
The symptoms of cellulitis must not be ignored, especially by people suffering from lymphedema. The doctor must be consulted and treatment started immediately. A 10-day course of antibiotics usually helps to clear up the infection. Till the cellulitis clears up, the patient is required to avoid the lymphoedema therapy like manual lymph drainage or massage. The compression garment should not be worn, but the affected limb should be kept elevated for fluid movement in the right direction.
Lymphedema patients must essentially avoid contracting cellulitis so as not to overload an already weakened system. Contracting cellulitis for lymphedema patients is like an invitation to disaster. If the infection is not treated in time, it could lead to severe complications like spreading of the infection to other parts of the body, resulting in gangrene, sepsis, limb amputation or even death. Cellulitis could start from any part of the body, not necessarily in the lymphedema affected limb. The best preventive measures involve taking care not to injure yourself. Using gloves while working, protecting the skin at all times, avoiding injuries and abrasions to the skin are some common forms of protection. Even if there is an injury, the wound must be cleaned well and antibiotic cream applied.
Till today, there is no known cure for lymphedema, it can only be controlled. An attack of cellulitis may cause irreversible damage the patient's lymphatic system. Hence, it is desirable to take all possible care to avoid such a situation. The skin must be protected at all times and injuries avoided. However, if the patient does catch cellulitis, quick treatment might help to prevent serious complications.