Infected sweat glands commonly occur in the armpit and the groin area. An infection mostly occurs when a sweat pore is blocked or clogged with dirt and oils. The area becomes inflamed and can become painful or irritated. Here are the causes of sweat gland infection with pictures, treatments and home remedies.
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What are infected sweat glands?
Hidradenitis suppurativa is the blockage of the sweat glands, normally in the armpits, and very rarely, on the buttocks or even the groin or sometimes under the breasts.
“Heat, sweat, or even incomplete gland development can block the sweat glands, forcing the sweat as well as bacteria into the tissue around it, which then becomes very much infected.” [WebMD] This condition is seen mostly in:
- Black females.
- People who are obese.
- People who spend more time in a hot and moist environment.
Infected sweat glands normally happens as multiple lumps that:
- Are very firm, tender, and also dome-shaped.
- Vary in size from about 1 cm to 3 cm.
- May open and also drain pus.
This condition is treated using medicine that reduce inflammation and also fight infection. But this condition is very hard to treat, and if the infection is much severe or even recurs, surgery can be required to get rid of the lumps and cure the infection.
Infected sweat glands is a long-term inflammatory skin disease that comes with recurrent boil-like lumps. These boils usually get bigger, and turn into the collections of pus. The abscesses leak pus and also become difficult to heal. The problem usually affects only the areas of the skin that has apocrine sweat glands.
Commonly, the problem affects the groin as well as the armpits. Other areas are at times affected such as under the breasts, the scrotum, the buttocks and also the perineum. Women tend to develop it more often in the armpits, groin as well as under the breasts. Men commonly develop disease that affects the perineal and perianal skin.
The wounds that are brought about by the boils and abscesses heal poorly with scarring. In very severe cases, the pus tunnels down under the skin surface. The tunnels formed are known as sinus tracts.
Multiple areas of the hidradenitis may become linked under the skin surface, by a network of interconnected sinus tracts. This implies the inflammation (and at times infection) travels deeper and thus becomes more widespread.
The healed areas are now full of thick scar tissue. The scarring may be as unsightly as the discharging wounds themselves.
It usually affects the people who are between puberty and also middle age. It is three times more common in the women than in men. It is very rare in Asian people, and far common in white-skinned people or Afro-Caribbean people.
Infected sweat glands only develops after the age of puberty. This is due to the fact that the sweat glands are much activated by the hormones known as the sex hormones, the levels of which increase during the puberty.
The problem tends to improve for the women if they take the combined oral contraceptive pill or if they are pregnant. It rarely happens after the menopause. These things all suggest that the hormones play a part in leading to this disease.
Pictures of inflamed sweat glands
What do infected sweat glands look like? Here are pictures for observation.
What causes infected sweat glands?
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a long-term skin condition. The cause is not established. Inflammation of the apocrine sweat gland-bearing areas causes painful and abscesses. An abscess is a collection of pus. Suppuration implies formation or even the discharge of pus.
These areas (commonly the armpits as well as the groin) leak pus and are much difficult to heal. Eventually, scarring happens. Treatments include the use of antibiotic medicines, surgical drainage of the abscesses and surgical removal of the affected skin areas.
The cause of infected sweat glands is not well known. It is said to happen because of the blockage of the hair follicles on the skin, or the sweat gland openings themselves. This particular blockage might be from the sweat itself, or skin secretions, like the sebum from the sebaceous glands.
The blocked sweat gland then continues to make sweat. The sweat might not escape on to the skin surface and so is thus forced deeper into the surrounding tissue. Germs that usually live on the skin surface can be trapped in the blocked gland or even hair follicle.
The bacteria may also multiply in the warm moist surroundings. As the sweat is forced back deeper into the tissues, it also takes with it the bacteria. This causes inflammation, and sometimes infection. This is how the hard boil-like lumps are said to form to begin with. As the problem gets much worse, abscesses, which has pus, develop.
It can also be that the sweat glands in some other people don’t develop correctly as well as completely. These glands may not allow the sweat they make to reach the skin surface. Instead, the sweat is therefore trapped and travels into the surrounding tissues.
The disease may run in families but the exact pattern of the inheritance is not known.
Infected sweat glands is very common in the obese people and in cigarette smokers. Obesity and smoking are not direct reasons. However, they might be said of as risk factors. Hidradenitis suppurativa also appears very common in people who have acne and hirsutism (excessive abnormal hairiness, especially the women).
It isn’t completely clear what leads to the blocked sweat gland in the armpit. Researchers think that it can be blocked hair follicles or even a blocked sweat gland opening. There might be excess sebum in the sebaceous glands that can also block the glands, while the sweat glands are still producing the sweat.
This forces the sweat into the gland, instead of moving out of the gland. Trapped bacteria normally thrive on the warm and moist areas and gets a ride into the gland on the beads of sweat. This causes inflammation and infection.
Another possible reason for the blockage can be congenital malformations in the sweat glands, in which the sweat glands don’t normally develop correctly and completely.
Symptoms of sweat duct and gland infection
Hidradenitis suppurativa normally starts with a single inflamed, firm, raised skin lump. Sometimes this stage may result in itching, but normally there is discomfort.
The nodule either disappears (in between 15 and 30 days) or remains to become a draining collection of pus (abscess). Abscesses are very painful.
Eventually, healing happens but the affected skin is now permanently affected, leaving a very deep scarring. In very severe disease the affected areas are then spread. Either single or even multiple abscesses happens.
The formation of the tunnels, known as sinus tracts, leads to the overlying skin to feel hard and very lumpy (indurated).
A staging system might be used to describe the severity of the infected sweat glands:
- Stage 1 – here there are either single or even multiple areas that are affected, but the abscesses are much separate from one another. There is no scarring or even the sinus tract formation.
- Stage 2 – involves recurrent abscesses which can also be single or even multiple. Although there are the sinus tracts, the affected skin spots are normally widely separated.
- Stage 3 – generally, large areas are largely affected with the multiple interconnected sinus tracts and abscesses.
For some other people, the infected sweat glands is very distressing, with a constant succession of new nodules and also abscesses forming as soon as the older ones have finally healed.
Infected sweat glands armpit and groin
The first signs of the hidradenitis supperativa normally come on during puberty stage when the sweat glands in the armpits as well as the groin become very active. Symptoms normally happen close to a hair follicle.
This is where the sweat glands are largely located. The areas that has the most symptoms tend to be the groin, armpit, and also around the buttocks mostly near the anus. Some people have symptoms in other areas that have close contact such as the underneath of the breasts, and the inner thigh skin area. It cannot just affect one area if the disease is very severe.
Symptoms of Blocked Sweat Gland
- Painful Bumps and Smell. You can notice small red and also painful bumps. They are like blisters and might break open and then drain. You can also notice a foul smell coming from them. Symptoms that come with these bumps include burning, more sweat than normal, and also itching.
- Open Lesions. There can also be open sores that take more time to heal. They normally leak fluid. They might cause tunneling under the surface of the skin and also scarring after they heal.
- Blackheads. Some areas of the skin may have crops of blackheads. These crops always have two, which is common in the disease.
- Pea-sized Lumps – There might be pea-sized lumps embedded under the skin. They sometimes become much enlarged, inflamed and do not disappear for years.
Treatment for infected sweat glands
Try to lose weight if you are much obese and stop smoking if you smoke. Also, the following may assist to relieve some of the symptoms:
- Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.
- Wash the affected skin spots carefully and very gently, preferably by use of an antibacterial or even antiseptic soap or even the shower gel. This is to try to get rid of the germs (bacteria) on the skin. (Note that it is very normal to have bacteria harmlessly living on the skin.)
- Avoid shaving the affected areas, like the underarms.
- Avoid use of deodorants and antiperspirants if the underarms are much affected, and avoid perfumes on affected spots too.
- You can apply a hot flannel to hold against infected sweat glands and encourage the collections of pus to come to a ‘point’, so that they begin draining. A tense hard abscess that has not burst is very painful than one where the pus is draining out.
- Try to reduce heat exposure and sweating. This can mean avoiding sitting close to the fireplace, or avoiding much intense exercise in the gym.
It is very difficult to control infected sweat glands using medical treatment. The aim is to catch the disease in its early stages, and also to treat and control the milder forms of the disease. Medical treatment implies use of medicines, either on the skin, or by mouth. Examples of medical treatment are:
- Topical anti-acne antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide; The antibiotics get rid of the bacteria that is found on the skin whilst the benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent and also causes drying of the skin. Benzoyl peroxide also encourages the skin to shed its dead layer, which can assist to stop the blockage of the pores.
- Short courses of antibiotic tablets may be applied when there are very new abscesses. The aim is to try to stop the infection from spreading and to also assist the abscess heal more quickly. Generally a short course of antibiotics will last for two weeks.
- Prolonged courses of antibiotic tablets. These are normally applied for their anti-inflammatory action.
- Trial of the pill can be used to treat infected sweat glands. A trial of up to about 12 months can be required before deciding on whether the skin has evenly improved. Some COCPs might be better than others. They counteract the more ‘male’ hormone effects like the skin oiliness and spots. Contraceptive pills are only suitable for women. Not all women may safely use the Pill, as contraceptive pills might have very serious side-effects in some of the women. The doctor can discuss with you whether it is safe to use the Pill.
- Retinoids. Acitretin is a retinoid that has indicated promising results. It can be applied when other medicines have not been very helpful. These are mostly vitamin A-based medicines and should only be used by a skin specialist. These medicines work by stopping of the secretion of sebum from the sebaceous glands. They also assists the normal shedding of the dead skin cells in the hair follicles, preventing the pore blockage. It must not be taken in pregnancy because the risk of birth defects.
- Corticosteroid tablets, like prednisolone, can be applied in the short courses to reduce infected sweat glands. Long courses of steroids might lead to very serious side-effects like ‘thinning’ of the bones, weight gain, high blood pressure and mental health problems.
- Medicines that affect the immune system have also been used with some of the success. These medicines might only be prescribed by a specialist and the treatment should be carefully monitored. This is due to the fact that there are potentially too serious side-effects like kidney failure, and low blood counts (which can make a person be at risk of an overwhelming infection). Examples of medicines applied are:
- Anti-TNF medicines like infliximab.
- Dapsone (normally applied to treat leprosy; used in hidradenitis suppurativa for the anti-inflammatory action).
Some of these new medicines are too expensive. The NHS limits the use of the medicines to some medical conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. Use in hidradenitis suppurativa would be off-licence and only likely to be found on a private basis.
Long-standing infected sweat glands normally needs surgery. Generally, it would be performed under general anesthetic. The surgical procedure used depends on the extent of the hidradenitis suppurativa. Surgical treatments are:
- Incision and drainage – this implies piercing a tense, hard abscess and allowing the pus to drain out. This is most appropriate for hidradenitis suppurativa, and a course of antibiotic tablets would normally be given afterwards.
- Wide-scale removal (excision) of affected areas – this might be used for grade 2 and 3 disease. For stage 2 disease, the sinus tracts are surgically extracted. In stage 3 disease, the operation requires to be very extensive, as the tracts go deeper and larger areas are also involved. This implies a lot of scarred, infected sweat glands has to be done away. Often skin grafts and other plastic surgery techniques are required.
- Carbon dioxide laser treatment might be used as an alternative to the conventional surgery, where found, and much dependent on the severity of the disease. It is a new treatment. The diseased tissue is vaporized leaving an open wound that is left to heal.
Other treatments: Radiotherapy has been applied to treat infected sweat glands, but this is not very common.
Home remedies for infected sweat glands
- Wash the skin using antiseptic soap. Apply a gentle, non-irritating soap to wash the skin, focusing on the areas that are likely to be affected by the blocked sweat glands. The areas include the groin, armpits, under the breast, and any other area of the skin that folds against itself.
- Allow the skin to air-dry rather than rubbing very dry with a towel.
- Wash daily, or even twice a day if vital to maintain cleanliness.
- Avoid tight clothing.Any clothing that presses or rubs against the skin increases the chances of developing the blocked sweat glands. Wearing of the loose clothing of the natural fibers, like hemp or linen, is recommended to prevent the infected sweat glands.
- Underwire bras might block sweat glands under the breasts. Try to find a supportive bra that doesn’t press tightly against the skin.
- Tight waistbands might also block sweat glands.
- Quit smoking.Research shows that smoking increases the chances of developing HS, though the reason is unknown. Smoking is one of the key risk factors for HS. So as to prevent blocked sweat glands, try to quit smoking.
- If you require help to quit the smoking, talk to the medical health provider or even a local health organization.
- Support groups or individual coaches can assist you to quit smoking. Most companies have incentive programs to assist their employees to quit smoking. Keep trying until you find the one that works best for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight.This condition is most common among the people who are overweight or even obese. To prevent the occurrence of infected sweat glands, try to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you’re overweight, then consider joining a weight loss program for encouragement in making lifestyle changes. Eat a healthy diet, avoiding a sugary snacks and fatty foods, and eat plenty of fresh vegetables.
- Talk to the health care provider about the weight loss support groups as well as dietary needs.
- If you’ve already developed this condition, losing weight may assist to prevent additional flare-ups.
- Don’t shave your body hair.Shaving the armpits or even groin might lead to rubbing bacteria into the glands. If you want to get rid of hair in areas more likely to develop the condition, talk to the dermatologist about options for hair removal.
- Wearing or perfume or perfumed deodorants can also irritate the skin. Apply unscented products that is designed for sensitive skin.
- Because shaving of the groin and armpits are very sensitive subjects, you can wish to talk to the doctor about finding support groups.
- Keep the groin area cool and clean.Wear cotton undergarments to improve the air flow, and also avoid tight clothing. Wearing of the synthetic fabric undergarments restricts the air flow and increases the likeliness of blocked sweat glands.
- Wash groin daily or even twice daily, depending on the individual requirements. Use gentle antibacterial soap and allow to air dry.
- Use lukewarm water so as to wash groin.
- Avoid overheating.Heavy sweating might lead to infected sweat glands. Using of the saunas or steam rooms can lead to sweating and also blockage of sweat glands. Exercise in the early morning or evening, when the temperatures are lower than average. Don’t do “hot” yoga, as this is designed to increase sweating.
- Blocked Sweat Glands – Topic Overview: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/blocked-sweat-glands-topic-overview
- Inflamed/Infected Sweat Glands (hidradenitits): http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/dermatology/inflamedinfected_sweat_glands_hidradenitits_134,163/
- Understanding Infected Sweat Glands: http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/men/sweating-odor/infected-sweat-glands.htm
- Blocked Sweat Gland in Armpit: http://www.md-health.com/Blocked-Sweat-Gland-in-Armpit.html
- Hidradenitis suppurativa: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hidradenitis-suppurativa/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- How To Get Rid of Boils on Inner Thigh: http://www.top10homeremedies.com/how-to/how-to-get-rid-of-boils-on-inner-thigh.html
- How to Prevent Blocked Sweat Glands: http://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Blocked-Sweat-Glands