What are some of the causes of armpit infections?

Axillary infections are infections of the skin or lymph nodes located in the armpits. The most common cause of armpit infections is shaving armpit hair, which can lead to small, irritated bumps or breaks in the skin. These bumps or cuts can be subject to bacterial invasion, causing infections.

Young girls, who have recently started shaving under their armpits, are at the highest risk of getting axillary infections. Armpit infections can be reduced by using soap and water while shaving and making sure the razor is clean. This can usually be achieved by soaking the razor in rubbing alcohol for about sixty seconds before use.

Underarm infections can also be the result of ingrown hairs that occur after using hair removal creams such as Nair® or when plucking your armpits. Armpit infections of this type may feel like a hard lump that is painful to the touch. If such a lump does not resolve with warm compresses in a day or two, or if the lump begins to leak pus, a doctor should be seen.

In some cases, waxing can lead to underarm infections if bacteria contaminate the wax. Although these infections are rare, those who contract such an infection should alert the salon where the hair removal was performed and also see a doctor for antibiotic treatment.

Oftentimes, armpit lumps are not indicative of armpit infections, but are indications of infections in other parts of the body. The armpits have lymph nodes that can become swollen when one is fighting bacterial or viral infections. It is not uncommon, particularly in children, to have a swollen lymph node for several months after an illness.

However, lumps in the armpits can also be indicative of breast cancer. So a lump that doesn't resolve in a few days should always mean getting medical attention quickly. Some women develop breast cancer with a lump in the armpit first. Breast self-exams should always include the underarms to provide a baseline analysis so differences can be noted on subsequent exams.

Occasionally, axillary infections are yeast-based infections. This can happen to those who have recently taken antibiotics, or those who are immunosuppressed. Armpits may appear red and itch. They may also exhibit a mild rash. If you have never had a yeast infection under your arms, you should see a doctor. One will usually be treated with topical antifungal creams to help clear an infection. Any deodorant used during this time should not be shared with other members of a household, and should be thrown away a few days into treatment to prevent re-infection.

Small cysts can also appear in the armpits and can become infected. These axillary infections may require removal of the cyst or warm compresses and oral antibiotics to resolve the cysts. A doctor should always evaluate these cysts to rule out cancer. Large cysts may require a needle biopsy to make sure the lump is benign.

You can often distinguish between cysts and lumps caused by cancer because cysts tend to be painful, while lumps are not. However, this alone is not enough to rule out cancer. Any lump in the axillary regions requires medical evaluation.

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