Lymphedema of the head and neck is a build-up of lymph above the shoulders and collar bones. It is most commonly caused by the secondary lymphedema (SLE); however, it can be present at birth due to primary lymphedema (PLE).There is a wide range of causes of swelling in this area and these symptoms are often worse during the night, or at other time when the patient is lying down. These problems often improve during the day when the patient is sitting up or walking around and the lymphatic fluid has had a chance to drain away from the head and neck.
Visual external signs are important. The most effective way to compare changes is to use digital photography with a camera that automatically puts date and time information on the photo. These photos should be taken in the same positions so they can accurately be compared. Internal examination of the throat is performed by using laryngoscopy. This diagnostic test is usually performed by a speech therapist trained in the use of this instrument to visually examine the interior of the larynx (voice box).
Because the neck transports blood to and from the brain, and since a clear airway is essential to breathing, this condition must be cleared as carefully as possible by a lymphedema therapist who has specialized training in this treatment.
Manual lymph drainage is an important part of this treatment; however it must be performed so that the blood flow in and around the aorta located in the neck is not blocked.
The water wheel is a collection of lymphatic vessels that is located slightly in front of, and below, the jaw. A circular massage motion in this area helps to stimulate the flow of lymph in this area.
The lack of adequate saliva in the mouth results in a dry mouth and this requires massage within the mouth. For sanitary reasons, the therapist must wear disposable gloves when performing this type of massage.
Compression face masks, neck and chin straps are specialized compression garments that should be used only in the design, and size, as recommended by the patient’s therapist.
Proper treatment can improve the patient’s quality of life; however, appropriate training and extreme caution in providing this treatment is very important.
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