Do you suffer from armpit cysts yet you do not know why? There are many possible causes, most of which we will discuss including their symptoms, treatments and removal options.
Cysts are non-cancerous closed sacs or “closed pockets of tissue that can be filled with fluid, pus, or other material” [webmd.com] with their outer wall known as a capsule.
They are mostly painless, although some cases or a secondary infection can make them painful or sore.
If you touched them, they feel like peas (or a pimple like) beneath your skin surface (and on your internal organs such as kidney, liver, etc.) and they can appear on anywhere. People all ages and gender can have them, i.e., they can be in both men and women of all ages.
The most common cysts that will affect your underarm are the acne, sebaceous and epidermal inclusion cysts. However, you can also get the pilonidal ones although they normally “occur on the skin near the cleft of the buttocks.”
Symptoms to expect
In terms of size, they could be small (microscopic) or large and noticeable, and they can appear on and around or near your armpits.
The symptoms you expect might be related to the specific causes, the most obvious one being an unusual lump-like structure that might develop on your underarm.
Another symptom is them being painless (unless raptured, infected or inflamed). These cysts grow slowly and are “smooth to the touch when they are rolled under the skin” [webmd.com].
What causes them?
To be able to remove or treat cysts under your armpits, you must know the reasons why they are coming or their cause.
Of course, there are many causes and diagnosis by a professional healthcare personnel might be important. Some of the most common or possible reasons include the following.
1. Shaving and use of deodorants
Shaving can cause ingrown hair cysts. This is true if they occur in adolescents to teenagers who have just begun shaving their underarm hair. Adults can also have them due to shaving.
Furthermore, the use of antiperspirant or deodorant may also encourage them. Ensure proper shaving technique as well as equipment to reduce chances of ingrown hairs.
Moisture and the little light in armpits can promote bacterial growth. Some of them can them get into your skin, causing cysts especially the streptococcal and staphylococcal infections.
Most people end up with enlarged lymph nodes too when this happens. Doctors will use antibiotic and other bacterial treatment options to deal with such infections.
Besides bacterial infections, some fungal and viral infections could be behind this problem. For instance, sporotrichosis, shingle, chicken pox and some issues that may result from HIV AIDS due to a weakened immunity may cause cysts.
3. Cysts and cancer
The presence of lumps on your armpits could be a sign lymphoma, a type of cancer that results from a collection of damaged lymphocytes at the affected node.
The swelling may ache and if cancer begins to spread, expect symptoms such as fatigue, fever, night sweats, sudden weight loss, itching, loss of appetite, among others. Also, the neck and groin lymph nodes may also be affected.
Both the Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, are known to cause lumps on underarms.
4. Fibrocystic breast changes
Women who suffer from lumpy or tender breasts immediately before their menstrual cycle can end up with lump-like feeling in their armpits. This will happen if the condition extends from your breast tissue to your underarm tissue.
5. Various vaccinations
Allergic reactions to vaccines for diseases such as mumps, smallpox, typhoid, rubella, measles, etc. can cause both underarm cysts and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes. This is temporary, and it will go away with time.
6. Hidradenitis suppurativa
Sometimes you might suffer from a small bump on the arm under skin and groin are due to the many oil and sweat glands in this region. This is due to hidradenitis suppurativa where “clusters of abscesses or subcutaneous boil-like "infections" (oftentimes free of actual bacteria) that most commonly affects apocrine sweat gland-bearing areas, such as the underarms, under the breasts, inner thighs, groin and buttocks” [en.wikipedia.org].
Another possible cause of particularly small underarm cysts is a lipoma. “A lipoma is a slow-growing, fatty lump that's most often situated between your skin and the underlying muscle layer” [mayoclinic.org].
It is not cancerous, feel doughy and moves if you apply pressure to it. At times, it can be growing and painful. In such a case, removal might be necessary.
8. Keratin buildup
Another possible cause could be keratin buildup. When this happens, you end up with epidermoid cysts, which “are small noncancerous bumps beneath the skin. Epidermoid bumps can appear anywhere on the skin but are most common on the face, neck and trunk” [mayoclinic.org].
Keratin buildup causes them; they grow slowly, do not need treatment and are painless. If you do not want these keratin buildups, they are painful, infected or raptured; you might need to see a doctor for treatment.
Epidermoid cysts are more common in men than women and their sizes vary from a few millimeter to about 5 centimeters.
9. Pilonidal Cyst
This refers to “abscess near or on the natal cleft of the buttocks that often contains hair and skin debris” [en.wikipedia.org]. On rare occasions, they can also affect your genital region, armpits, and navel.
To know you have a pilonidal cyst in your armpit, you will have symptoms such as discomfort or a swelling in your underarm, bloody or opaque yellow discharge and unexpected moisture in your underarm.
To treat them, try hot compresses, antibiotic therapy, and use of depilatory creams. Surgical excision may be advised on some occasion
10. Sebaceous cyst
Sometimes, occlusion of a duct that drains your sebaceous glands can lead to the formation of fluid-filled cysts anywhere on your body including your armpits i.e. “cysts which originate from sebaceous glands and which contain sebum” [Wikipedia.org].
It can be on both your axilla (underarm), left or right axilla alone, but they are less common when compared to epidermoid.
The sebaceous cyst in the armpit often appear when your sebaceous glands get blocked, you have high levels of testosterone, you use androgenic anabolic steroids, due to hereditary factors or you have a swollen hair follicle.
Symptoms: Some of the common symptoms you expect to have to include sore and tender skin, skin redness, “Grayish-white, cheesy, foul-smelling material that drains from the cyst” [nlm.nih.gov] and some warmth on the affected area.
Treatment: Normally, they do not require medical treatment especially if they are still small. You can try moist warm compress.
However, if you want them removed for some reason such as being enlarged, swollen or tender, removal might involve surgical removal.
This is a simple excision process that eliminates the sac with all its content. In case of infections, the doctor may prescribe some antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection.
10. Other causes
These are not the only reasons. Other less often but possible causes include cat scratch fever, mononucleosis, infection of a woman’s breast tissue, breast cancer, some medications, autoimmune disorders such as systematic lupus erythematosus, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, excessive sweating, among others.
Cysts on your underarm may have various aspects such as being painful, small, big, or infected. Let us at each on them in details.
1. Small or little cysts
A number of the above causes can lead to tiny cysts on your axilla. However, lipoma, some sebaceous cysts, and hidradenitis suppurativa are the most common cause. Sebaceous ones can at times be very large.
2. Infected cysts
Sometimes, a cyst on underarm may be infected if you try popping them, they rapture or burst.
Some of the common symptoms of an infection include redness, tenderness, pain and warmth around the area affected area.
Whereas having infection may make them drain, ensure they do not evolve into subcutaneous abscesses. Try warm compresses to encourage draining.
3. Painful cysts
In most instances, they are painless but could be painful at times. In case of pain, it could be mild to severe, and it could come before the actual cyst begins to develop and could be worse as you move your arm.
Most cysts caused by infection or are infected, they tend to be painful or sore, red and tender.
In case they hurt, the first treatment you should consider should be anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain and inflammation. You can then take antibiotics for bacterial infections.
The doctor may recommend surgical and laser procedure if you intend to obliterate them.
Removal and treatments
In most instances, cysts on your underarms will disappear on their own. However, some might require treatment or removal. The removal or treatment option you go will depend on the cause.
To diagnose them, a physical exam and wiggle test, i.e., “growth by squeezing the lump between thumb and forefinger, and move it back and forth. If it wiggles, it's probably a cyst” [health.howstuffworks.com] might be helpful in confirming if you have the cyst or a lump in your underarm.
A biopsy might be necessary if they are suspected to be cancerous. However, they are rarely malignant. Here are common ways to treat or remove cysts.
1. Popping and draining
Some cysts might require popping and draining for the symptoms to disappear. Popping might need a scalpel or needle, and a specialist should do it.
This method does not cure them but relieves the symptoms especially if they are pus-filled. They may heal on their own, but this approach presents the possibility of them reappearing again.
2. Medications and injections
Cortisone injections can be used to shrink the cysts. This is steroid injection that reduces swelling. Infected ones may require medications such as antibiotics or antifungal, depending on what caused them.
3. Surgical removal
If you have tried all the above treatment without much success, you should consider surgical removal. Do this when they are large, and they have severe and troubling symptoms. Ignoring large ones on your armpits can hinder your normal activities.
Instead of the usual surgical removal, laser surgery can also be used.
4. Home remedies
Many home remedies can be used to treat underarm cysts. Some of the popular natural remedies you should try to include hot compresses, washing with antibacterial soap, and clean it with an antibacterial ointment to reduce chances of infection.
However, do not pop, squeeze or open them since this leads to scarring, infection and it might increase the chances of more appearing. Yet, if it is puss filled and it has ripened, you can pop and drain it.
Who can be affected?
Do they affect women or female
In a female, they can be due to any of the causes we have already mentioned. However, some causes such as fibrocystic breast changes and infection of a woman’s breast tissue are unique to women alone.
Are men affected by cysts on underarm
As mentioned early, anyone can have them including children, teens, and adults.
Also, any of the above causes can be a reason for men, except for those that affect only women. However, epidermoid and sebaceous cysts (if one uses androgenic anabolic steroids or has high testosterone levels) are more common in men than women.
References and sources