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Topic: Bandaging and flying: What do you do?

Forum: Lymphedema — Risks, tips for prevention, and info about products that can address the symptoms of lymphedema.

Posted on: Aug 14, 2006 10:56PM

AmyE wrote:


I've just returned from a vacation where a lot of flying was involved. (Luckily I missed the security alert!) I always bandage except on short flights when I use a Jobst compression sleeve.

I have two questions. First of all, what do you say to people who ask you about your arm? I had customs agents and security people ask in such caring ways what was wrong with me and I never knew exactly how to respond. Finally, I asked one of them, "Haven't you ever seen this before?", and she said "no". So, my second question: do you bandage when you fly or just use a compression sleeve?


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Aug 15, 2006 12:25AM mags wrote:

Hi Amy, I'd like to know the answer to this one too as I'll be flying in October. Last time I had lymphedema and flew without anything. It hadn't actually been diagnosed then. It is only mild lymphedema. Would rather bandage than use my sleeve. I really don't like the sleeve. Most of my problem is in my fingers too so the sleeve won't help that.
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Aug 15, 2006 05:27AM andys wrote:

I fly about twice a month for work and the therapist suggested that I bandage rather than just use the sleeve and glove. BTW, Mags, you should get a compression glove for your hand and fingers, mine goes all the way to the top knuckle. I used to bandage at home, but found that it always meant that I had to get pulled out of line in security so they could scan me. They were always very courteous saying things like "I'll try not to hurt you". When they asked, I told them I had a chronic condition called lymphedema that could get aggravated due to the changes in air pressure while flying, so I wore these special compression bandages. That's when their eyes would glaze over. But, mostly, they never asked. Well, as I got better at bandaging, I decided that I would rather get through security quickly, so now I'm the woman you see wrapping her arm in the departure lounge. It's interesting, folks are always asking me if I need help, but rarely ask me "what happened to your arm" - I don't get that question until I get on the plane where people didn't see me go through the whole process. Then, depending on my mood, I most often say "You should see the other guy". I know that I should use it as a chance to educate people, but somehow, lecturing strangers is not my thing. Oh, and I didn't miss the security alert, but I wasn't even pulled out of the boarding line for the random check.

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Aug 15, 2006 11:27AM NPat wrote:

Oh, Andy, if I see someone wrapping in the airport, I will run over and say, "Hi" I really don't mind the precautions. Several years ago I was travelling with an associate and I was ALWAYS the "random" person pulled from the line. It got almost funny... I don't know what profile I fit but I must have looked suspicious.
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Aug 15, 2006 03:25PM janie44 wrote:

I bandage rather than just wear the sleeve when flying because of the added possibility of fluid build-up. I also used to be the one random selected at airports too. I guess it's school psychologists and our shifty eyes! A colleague of mine was also targeted.

Dx 3/11/2004, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 3, 7/21 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2+
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Aug 15, 2006 04:15PM Hope_M wrote:

I always bandage when flying, and to date I've done so at home. I have to be swabbed for explosives, but it's simple and usually quick. (Sometimes I have to instruct the security person on how to do it--ha,ha!)

Being inside a pressurized airplane is like being on a very high mountain (maybe 10,000 feet, if I recall correctly. Can anyone else remember the equivalent altitude?). So be careful if relying on just a sleeve.

Hope M.
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Aug 16, 2006 09:12AM AmyE wrote:

Thank you to everyone for responding. I think I'm going to start bandaging for every flight, even the short ones. I'm not really sure where I got the idea that that would be o.k. anyway. And, I'm going to look for my fellow LE sisters when I fly!

Andy, I think you convinced me to think of a cute response to questions about "the arm" so I'm prepared ahead of time. The first time I was asked I blurted out something about breast cancer treatment and then realized I had totally overwhelmed this young male security guard. He was so sweet; I'm sorry I made him feel awkward.

Thanks again, sisters.

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Aug 16, 2006 07:26PM Binney4 wrote:

Okay, andy, YOU can get away with the "you should see the other guy" line because you're so together. But Amy, be warned! When I tried it the man I said it to took a long, hard look at me and muttered, "I don't see how anybody could look worse off than you do at the moment."

Nowadays I use the response Robin suggested, which goes something like this: "You remember those articles in the paper a couple of weeks back about the woman who was attacked by sharks...?"

Seriously, I keep thinking when somebody asks me about it, it's a good "teaching moment." But if so, I haven't got the lesson plan down. I've tried a number of educational approaches, but their eyes invariably glaze over, their cheeks sag, and if I don't stop pretty quickly, the drool begins to run down their chin. Lymphedema just isn't flashy. Or shocking. It doesn't grab anyone's attention.

So I'm proposing a think-tank here: anybody got any ideas on how to get "The LE Message" across to the mildly curious? A hand-out? Printed balloons? (Now THERE's a touch of classic irony!)

Ideas, ladies?

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Aug 17, 2006 09:49AM Hope_M wrote:

I cannot BELIEVE that that guy said that to you!!!

I always keep it short and sweet. I say that it's a compression sleeve to prevent swelling, kind of like wearing support hose on your legs for varicose veins or swelling. Then, if they want more, I explain that it is a common complication for breast cancer patients who've had all of their lymph nodes removed under their arm.

This is fairly short and seems to stop just short of the "glazed look" threshold.

Hope M.
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Aug 27, 2006 05:23AM amygil81 wrote:

Flying aggravates my LE, so I always bandage. My regular daytime sleeve and glove don't control it well enough, especially in my hand and fingers. It takes me a while to bandage, especially getting my hand and fingers done properly, so I have to do at it home. Security doesn't usually make a big deal about it, but sometimes I get swabbed like Hope does. I walk with crutches due to a disability, which go through the x-ray machine while I hop through the metal detector. They probably figure that the arm bandages are related to my disability, which they aren't. If I do get asked, I just wince and say, "yes, it's from my accident," and they don't ask any more, though they do occasionally pat me down. But add me to the list of those who bandage on planes, because my arm makes me.

Osteosarcoma in left leg at age 13. DCIS in left breast at 33. IDC recurrence in left chest wall at 42. Dx 12/2000, DCIS, Left, 1cm, Stage 0, 0/3 nodes, ER-/PR- Surgery 12/9/2000 Lymph node removal: Sentinel; Mastectomy: Left Dx 12/2009, IDC, Left, 1cm, Stage IIIB, 3/10 nodes Surgery 12/17/2009 Lumpectomy: Left; Lymph node removal: Left, Underarm/Axillary Chemotherapy 1/10/2010 CMF Chemotherapy 5/30/2010 Taxol (paclitaxel) Radiation Therapy 10/31/2010 External: Lymph nodes, Chest wall
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Aug 29, 2006 07:08AM BarbaraBinBrooklyn wrote:

Over a year and a half ago, I was pulled over in the airport while wearing sleeve and glove. I can't imagine unwrapping wrap at an airport.

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Sep 1, 2006 08:16AM theres126-2006Apr11 wrote:

I don't have lymphedema (knock on wood), but am at risk since I had a mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy. My pt recommended a sleeve and glove to be on the save side when flying next month. I've also seen opinions where it isn't necessary with just the snb (I had 5 sentinel nodes)

What are your feelings? And, is the compression sleeve and glove enough for those that don't have lymphedema, but are at risk?


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Sep 1, 2006 10:16AM DoreenF wrote:

Hi Theresa - There's a controversy over whether a sleeve and glove is required for flying if you do not already have lymphedema. I'm sure that the majority of us with lymphedema would tell you you want to do anything you can to prevent lymphedema - as it is a lifetime condition ...

I personally would not take that gamble ... but that's me. I had a single lymph node removed and I have lymphedema.

You might want to refer to the lymphedema prevention guidelines at the national lymphedema network ... If only heard of a sleeve and glove for flying (several hours before and after you land .. no lifting heavy luggage, no jerking ... etc) - I have not heard of someone without LE needing to be wrapped for flights.

"Cancer May Leave Your Body, but It Never Leaves Your Life" - Lance Armstrong Foundation Manifesto. Dx 4/18/2005, IDC, <1cm, Stage I, Grade 2, 0/2 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 1, 2006 11:29AM Binney4 wrote:

Hi, Theresa,
I believe it's controversial mainly because a poorly fitted sleeve, or a sleeve without a glove, can actually cause problems rather than preventing them. The solution to that, of course, would be to make sure whoever fits you has lots of experience with LE -- either a well-qualified LE therapist or a fitter who works often with LE patients. They aren't the most comfortable clothes you'll ever own, but they shouldn't cause pain or dig into you enough to leave lasting marks at the top, cuff or between the fingers.

Getting used to them gradually will help. Any redness or discomfort in the elbow or between the fingers can be helped by applying a bit of cornstarch to the area before putting on the garments. (Dump some cornstarch into a cotton sock, close the top with a rubber band, and pat it on just where you want it.) They should be hand washed, rinsed well (don't wring them, just pat them dry in a towel) and hung to dry thoroughly (doesn't take long). If you gain or lose weight, or when the garment starts to stretch out (usually about 6 months of daily wear) they need to be replaced. Also good to know: they do not protect from the sun, so you can get a burn if you don't use sun-screen. They also don't offer protection from bug bites, so I wear a long-sleeve shirt over them if I'm going to be out whent the bugs are.

In answer to your other post about driving, once you have a well-fitting sleeve and glove you can use them for any strenuous activity, any unusual lifting or exercise, and certainly for long drives or changes of elevation.

Like Doreen, I have LE after having a single node removed on one side and a prophylactic mastectomy on the other, so I agree about being cautious and doing whatever you can to prevent it. The National Lymphedema Network website she referred to is at:

If you have other questions or concerns do feel free to ask away -- but we sure do hope you'll never have to come here as one of us "swell" ladies!

Be well!

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