What Causes Itchy Armpits & How to Treat Them

Itchy underarms is a quite common condition experienced by individuals who may be having an allergic reaction to hygienic products, chemicals, or plants. Infected hair follicles and exposure to scabies might also result in an armpit itch. Read now for more information on causes and treatment options.

Hallmarks of an Armpit Itch

Even if your armpits are not sweating or smelly, a constant itch can be embarassing and uncomfortable. You can remedy hair or odor with personal grooming and hygiene, but an itch may be a different story. An armpit itch may result from a variety of factors and present itself with the following symptoms.

Common characteristics of an armpit itch

Your armpit itch may be described by:

  • Armpit redness, rash, or skin discoloration
  • Dryness
  • Skin flaking
  • Swelling
  • Soreness
  • Bumps on the skin

The armpits are in a tricky spot. Nestled between the arm, shoulder, and chest, they are more of a location than a body part. The sweat gland for the underarm is located in the armpit, causing the production of the majority of our body odor and perspiration. A large number of nerves are located in the armpit, making it sensitive and sometimes ticklish. The combination of warmth, dampness, and the frequent presence of body hair make them prone to itching. Under many circumstances, armpit itch symptoms are a product of the environment, but other causes are more significant and warrant different treatments.

Armpit Itch Causes

The way you care for your armpits can often lead to a variety of symptoms, including armpit itch. However, there is sometimes more to the problem than basic bodily functions or reactions. In those cases, it is important to analyze the armpit itch symptoms to best determine the cause.

Environmental causes

An armpit itch may be due to lifestyle habits or certain exposures.

  • Trauma: Irritation to the armpit can lead to itchiness, such as from improper shaving or ill-fitting bras.
  • Heat or cold: The skin reacts to prolonged exposure to either hot, cold, or dry air.
  • Allergies: Certain substances can cause a skin reaction that results in armpit itch. Laundry detergents, deodorants, or clothing materials are all known to cause itchiness.
  • Parasites: These are tiny organisms that live and feed on the body. Scabies and lice are common parasites known to affect the armpit and cause itchiness.

Inflammatory causes

Your armpits may be itchy due to inflammation.

  • Infection: While bacteria are normally found on the body, sometimes harmful bacteria can penetrate the skin and cause infection, inflammation, and itchiness. Armpit itch can result from a variety of bacteria including yeast, MRSA, and other fungi.
  • Autoimmune: Disorders resulting from the body attacking itself are considered autoimmune. Psoriasis is an example of an autoimmune disorder that causes armpit itch symptoms.

Metabolic causes

The body is accustomed to operating in a specific way. When daily processes are disrupted by conditions like axillary lymphadenopathy, armpit itch can occur.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: armpit redness, armpit itch, scabbed armpit bump

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit: armpit redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Scabies

Scabies is a rash caused by the microscopic human itch mite. It burrows into the top layer of skin to feed and causes severe itching and irritation.

The mite spreads through direct contact or through infested bedding or furniture. It can infect anyone, though most susceptible are:

  • Children.
  • Sexually active young adults.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system.
  • Patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Symptoms include intense itching, especially at night, and a rash of tiny red bumps. Scratching may cause the rash to form sores, scales, or crusts. The rash most often forms between the fingers, in the folds of the wrists and elbows, and any place normally covered by clothing.

It is important to get treatment because the scratching can cause an infection in the skin. In children, mites can cover nearly the entire body.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin test.

Treatment involves a prescription for skin cream. Everyone who has come into contact with the affected person must be treated, even if they show no symptoms.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, feeling itchy or tingling all over, butt itch, elbow itch

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a common skin problem where hair follicles are infected by bacteria or fungi.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: small facial lump, pink or red facial bump, face itch, facial bump leaking yellow/milky fluid, yellow or white facial bump

Symptoms that always occur with folliculitis: small facial lump

Urgency: Self-treatment

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Psoriasis

Psoriasis causes an overgrowth of surface skin cells, creating a red, scaly, itchy, and painful rash.

It is believed to be an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack its own healthy skin cells. It may be genetic in origin but triggered by anything that further strains the immune system, such as infections, skin injury, alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking, and stress.

Symptoms may come and go in cycles lasting weeks or months. They include red patches of thickened skin, sometimes with gray-white scales; dry, cracked, bleeding skin; stiff and swollen joints; and thickened, misshapen nails.

It is important to see a medical provider for care, because psoriasis can interfere with quality of life. It is associated with higher risk of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

Treatment involves different combinations of topical medications, oral medications, and phototherapy with natural or artificial light. Lifestyle changes such as improved diet, quitting smoking, and managing stress are very helpful in many cases.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, rash with well-defined border, painful rash, scaly rash

Symptoms that never occur with psoriasis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Armpit Itch Treatments and Relief

Usually, experiencing an itch in the absence of other symptoms does not raise any alarms; but that does not mean that it should not be treated. Switching to a different deodorant or soap may be all that is required, or you may need to see a physician for treatment.

At-home treatments

You can try the following treatments at home to possibly relieve your armpit itch.

  • Warm water compress: Apply a compress soaked with warm water to help speed recovery from boils.
  • Moisturizer: Repeated applications of lotion to the affect areas can help limit armpit itch symptoms caused by dryness. Make sure to choose one that is fragrance-free and safe for sensitive skin.
  • Hygiene: Ironically, bathing less can sometimes be the cure. Frequent bathing can dry the skin or repeatedly introduce irritants to the skin. Avoiding certain deodorants or soaps may also help. Changing clothes frequently and washing them at high temperatures will help eliminate parasites.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Creams or ointments designed to treat fungal infections are available.

When to see a doctor

The most common causes of armpit itch symptoms are treatable at home; however, if these do not provide relief, consult a doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you experience the following:

Medical treatments

Oral antifungal medications or antibiotics may be necessary for more significant causes of armpit itch, such as MRSA. Medication is also available to kill parasites.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Armpit Itch

  • Are you itchy all over?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • Catheterization is the insertion of a tube into the urethra to drain urine from the bladder. Have you recently been catheterized?
  • Do you have a rash?

Self-diagnose with our free if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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  • An armpit lump, or axillary lump, is often caused by swollen lymph nodes in the armpit. This condition can also be associated with tenderness or pain in the lump under the arm. A small or pea-sized lump in the armpit can also be caused by a skin infection, like a cyst, or ingrown hair. Read below for more causes and treatments options.

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References

  1. Scabies. American Academy of Dermatology Association. AAD Link
  2. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 6, 2018. CDC Link
  3. Psoriasis. National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. Published October 5, 2017. MedLinePlus Link
  4. Ferrer R. Lymphadenopathy: Differential Diagnosis and Evaluation. American Family Physician. 1998;58(6):1313-1320. AAFP Link
  5. Stopping the Spread of Germs and Parasites. Australian Goverment Department of Health. Published November 2010. Department of Health Link