Itchy Armpits: Types, Causes, Signs, and Prevention Tips

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itchy armpitItchy Armpit: Overview

An itchy armpit can be an irritating and sometimes disruptive condition. While not normally serious, the underarm region is unfortunately prone to dermatological conditions of one form or another.

Armpit rashes are usually either red bumps that resemble pimples or scaly, white patches, and the type of rash you experience will determine symptoms and treatment. Depending on what caused it, the rash can last for hours or months. Treatment methods vary, but a combination of home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle choices can be used.

Various types of rashes and treatment exist because the armpit is a rather unique part of the body. While on the surface it appears little more than folds of skin and some hair, the armpit contains a large number of blood vessels, lymph nodes, and sweat glands.

The prevalence of blood vessels makes your underarm one of the warmest spots on your body, and the sweat glands ensure it is regularly damp. This combination makes your armpits an ideal location to develop a number of itchy and problematic conditions.

In This Article:

Symptoms of Itchy Armpit

Depending on the cause of your rash, the symptoms may differ slightly. That said, you’ll likely experience at least a few of the following:

  • Skin color changes
  • Skin texture changes marked by dry skin or red bumps
  • Bumps or swelling; scaling
  • Warm feeling, like a heat rash
  • Pain or soreness in the area; intense itching may be noticed
  • Crusting or flaking of the skin
  • Blisters

Different Types of Armpit Rashes

There are different types of armpit rashes that can be caused by either localized issues or larger infections. This will often determine treatment. The different types of armpit rash you may experience include:

Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is eczema, and it’s a condition most people would have acquired as a child. It is typically found in areas where the body folds, making armpits a prime location for flare-ups. Eczema rashes are usually red, itchy, and prone to crusting. This type of rash can be intensely itchy and bleed with continuous scratching.

Seborrheic dermatitis: Is caused by an overproduction of skin oil (sebum). Instead of appearing as dry flakes, this type of rash is marked by oily patches. The sebum creates flakes or scales that are white or yellow.

Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis arises when your skin comes into contact with an allergen. In the case of an armpit rash, it can arise from ingredients in soaps, lotions, or deodorants, or materials used in clothing. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners can also irritate the area.

Candida: Candida is a form of fungal infection, best known as a yeast infection. It mostly occurs on moist areas of the skin, like the armpits. This is especially true if you perspire heavily in your armpit. The symptoms of a candida fungal infection are typically itching, scaling, a red or white rash, and potential swelling. The likelihood of such an infection increases in warm weather, and in those with poor hygiene or who regularly wear tight-fitting clothing. It’s rather easily treated by antifungal creams.

There are other types of rashes a person can get that are not localized to the armpit. However, if infection occurs or spreads to the armpit, it can appear there as well. This would include a herpes infection like shingles, autoimmune issues, ringworm, bug bites, poison, and more. Swollen lymph nodes may also contribute to itchiness.

Causes of an Itchy Armpit

Although an itchy armpit is not an inherently uncommon symptom, it is one that can be caused by a surprisingly large number of triggers. By examining the armpit itself and looking at what else accompanies the itching, a better picture can be drawn of what the potential culprits are.

Hygiene issues: As mentioned, the armpit is a warm, damp environment and the sort of place bacteria love to grow in. If you have poor personal hygiene, bacteria will multiply and irritate the skin.

Miliaria rubra: Also known as a “heat rash”, this condition is caused by blocked sweat glands and typically presents itself with itchy underarms and red bumps. The affected area may “prickle” as well and the rash can spread over other parts of the body.

Hidradenitis suppurativa: An uncommon condition that is best imagined as a “reverse pimple”. It is characterized by hair follicles becoming blocked and inflamed, creating painful cysts under the skin that can open into abscesses or sores and leak pus even without bacteria being present. These wounds do not always heal and can actually form “tunnels” under the skin in extreme cases.

Swollen lymph nodes/ axillary lymphadenopathy: As mentioned near the beginning, the armpits have a large number of lymph nodes in them. If your body is fighting off an infection, the lymph nodes can swell to the point that they present irritation and itching.

Deodorant: Antiperspirants and deodorants can be responsible for itching or painful armpits. Some of these products can clog sweat glands, trigger dermatitis reactions, or otherwise irritate the skin.

Ingrown hair: If you shave your underarms, you may inadvertently cause an ingrown hair, which means that a strand of broken hair has been bent sideways and is growing back into the skin. This presents itself with a raised, red bump similar to a pimple and can cause itchiness and rash.

Shaving/armpit folliculitis: Shaving your armpits can lead to irritation in a couple of ways. First off, you want to make sure you aren’t allergic to any of the ingredients of chemicals in the shaving cream. Exercise the same caution with your aftershave products, as well as any “hydrating” strips that may be on your razor blade.

A dull razor blade can also cause irritation and rashes, so pay attention to the sharpness of your blade.

The direction that you shave in can also play a role in armpit rashes and irritability. For example, going against the grain or recklessly swiping from side to side increases the likelihood of cuts and maybe even the sensitivity of hair follicles, potentially leading to ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs are strands that grow back into your skin. They are highly irritating and look like red bumps, resembling a rash.

A condition known as armpit folliculitis can also occur, which is when bacteria infects the hair follicles in the area and causes inflammation and rash.

Reactions to allergens: There may be chemicals or compounds in the products you use under your arms that can lead to rashes or irritation. Soaps, lotions, deodorant, and clothing material can all lead to discomfort and rashes under the armpit. If you’ve recently noticed rashes appearing, locate any new product or clothing you’ve purchased and avoid it for a while. Take a look at the ingredients or materials and compare them to other products you’ve used in the past without problems.

Issues related to pregnancy: It’s possible that some women may experience irritation in the armpit area at various times during pregnancy. It can be due to hormonal changes, and conditions like eczema and impetigo may arise. In women prone to yeast infections, it may also lead to an increased risk for candida infection of the armpit.

Skin issues/health conditions: There are also people who are more likely to experience armpit rashes because of existing health issues. Some examples of these issues include:

  • Hyperhidrosis: A condition that leads to excessive sweating. If you sweat profusely, particularly under the armpit, you are at risk for an overgrowth of bacteria that can cause irritation. You may need to seek medical treatment in addition to practicing exceptional personal hygiene.
  • Eczema: If you have eczema or are particularly prone to skin inflammation, you could be more likely to experience rashes under your armpit. The symptoms can be managed with creams and/or coconut oil. Castor oil is also a good option.
  • Psoriasis: This condition could be another underlying cause of rashes in your armpit. Psoriasis tends to form around folds in the skin, leading to scaly patches.
  • Breast cancer: The cancer type may lead to itchiness in the armpit area, but is likely preceded by more noticeable symptoms.
  • Keratosis pilaris: This is a harmless condition that can occur on various parts of the body, including armpits. It does not hurt or itch, and is generally considered a variant of normal skin. It is marked by dry rough patches and tiny bumps.

Itchy Armpit Complications

When you feel your armpit itching or notice a rash or any other kind of irritation or discoloration, it’s important to deal with it in a timely fashion. Depending on the cause, letting it go for too long can result in more serious bacterial of fungal infections. These infections can result in pustules, which are fluid-filled red bumps. They grow on top of the skin and are extremely irritating, and they have the potential to leave scars if scratched.

You can likely avoid complications by identifying and treating the condition as soon as you feel it. If you’ve been suffering for a few days and topical treatments, avoiding allergens, and the like have not worked, book a trip to the dermatologist. They should be able to identify the source of the rash and irritation and set you up with an adequate and effective treatment plan.

Treating Itchy Armpits

The first and most important thing to remember when dealing with an itchy armpit is not to scratch it. This will never solve the underlying problem and if you break the skin, you will put yourself at risk of infection and further complications of the condition. With that out of the way, there are a few general measures you can take when confronted with an itching armpit.

  • Stop shaving: Refrain from shaving the area at least until the symptoms clear up. Shaving can irritate the skin further and may be what caused the problem in the first place.
  • Stay clean: Regularly wash the area with mild soap and water.
  • Avoid deodorant: If your armpits show signs of irritation or dermatitis, you may want to consider temporarily stopping or switching to a different, milder brand of deodorant to see if that makes a difference. Generally speaking, roll-on deodorants are less irritating than sprays.
  • Hot compresses: A moist, hot compress can be applied gently to the area to promote drainage of fluid and/or pus buildup.
  • Apply soothers: Aloe vera, tea tree oil, calamine lotion, oatmeal, or Epsom salts baths can help relax the area and ease the itching.

If you or your doctor has identified the underlying cause of the itchiness, you can also employ more targeted measures:

  • Ingrown hairs can be plucked out with tweezers.
  • Heat rash and psoriasis can be managed with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone creams.
  • Candida is best dealt with using oral or topical antifungal medications.
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa may be lessened with use of antibiotic creams or, in extreme cases, surgery.
  • If you have dermatitis, track down what the trigger is.

How to Prevent an Itchy Armpit

You can try and prevent armpit rash and irritation by:

  • Practicing good hygiene and washing the armpits with soap that does not cause irritation. If you have time, air dry.
  • Stop using products that cause irritation.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing, particularly those made from synthetic material. Wear loose-fitting, cotton shirts that allow the area to breathe.
  • If the cause is heat-related, apply talcum powder before going outside.
  • Eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet
  • Avoid synthetic deodorants and soaps
  • Use fragrance-free soaps and deodorants.

When to See a Doctor

In rare cases, an itchy underarm can actually be a signal of a serious underlying problem. If the itchiness presents with chills, fever, joint pain, stiffness, breathing difficulties, swelling on the mouth or face, or altered consciousness, seek medical attention immediately.

Take Care of Your Itchy Armpit

Although irritating and annoying, an itchy armpit, or an armpit rash, is usually harmless and can be dealt with relatively quickly and easily. Identifying the culprit, knowing the symptoms, and being aware of treatment options can keep irritation to a minimum, while using the preventative measures mentioned above can limit the likelihood of trouble.

In certain cases where the symptoms don’t go away in a timely fashion, reach out to your doctor to see if there is a more severe underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

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Article Sources (+)

“Hidradenitis Suppurativa,” Mayo Clinic web site, April 9, 2013; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hidradenitis-suppurativa/basics/definition/con-20027334.
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