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Gnat bites - lymphodema


Re: Gnat bites - lymphodema

Hi LynnAnn

Thank you for your post.

Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the surface tissues of the body.This can happen as a result of damage to the lymphatic system following surgery and/or radiotherapy to the breast or armpit (axilla). It’s not clear from your post whether you had some early swelling after the operation, which is normal, or you had a diagnosis of mild lymphoedema. Swelling soon after the operation is common and will usually settle over time, while lymphoedema is a long-term condition, which means that once it has developed it can be controlled but is unlikely to ever go away completely.

It's not possible to say what the likelihood is of you developing lymphoedema from your five bites. The lymphatic system helps the body get rid of waste products and also fights infection. Having all your lymph nodes removed may not affect the healing unless you already have lymphoedema. Keep insect bites clean and apply antiseptic cream, covering the area where appropriate. Contact your GP or breast care nurse as soon as possible if you have any signs of infection like redness or a rash, heat, swelling, pain or flu-like symptoms. You may need antibiotic treatment. 

There are ways in which to help reduce the risk of lymphoedema developing. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising will reduce the burden on the lymphatic system. Insect bites can sometimes get infected and  infection in your ‘at risk’ arm can cause swelling and may damage the lymphatic system leading to lymphoedemaIn the future you may want to try to protect against insect bites by using insect repellent (at least 50% DEET).

Lymphoedema can develop soon after treatment or may occur many years later. Symptoms of lymphoedema include swelling in the arm, hand, fingers, breast, or chest wall on the side of the body where you had your surgery or radiotherapy. The arm can feel tight and uncomfortable and the skin can become dry.

If you are diagnosed with lymphoedema, our Living with lymphoedema booklet explains more about what can be done to help. 

Do call our Helpline if you would like to talk this through or have any further questions. Your call will be confidential, and the number is free from UK landlines and all mobile networks.

The number is 0808 800 6000 (Text relay prefix 18001).

Our opening hours are Monday to Friday 9am - 4pm and 9am -1pm on Saturday. Out of hours you can leave a message and we will call you back when we next open.

Please be aware that we will be closed on Monday 31 August due to the bank holiday. 

Best wishes


Breast Cancer Now Nurse

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Gnat bites - lymphodema

Having gone six years since surgery and only had very mild lymphodema at the very beginning, I am aware that it could rear its head again. I recall being advised to cover my arms to avoid gnat bites but despite doing this I’ve still managed to get five bites on my surgery arm. I would be grateful for any advice on the likelihood of lymphodema developing - is it a matter of making sure the bites don’t get infected and what is the best way to prevent this? Are they less likely to heal as I have had all my lymph nodes removed in that arm and is there anything I can do to speed up the process?  Thanks for reading.