If you suffer from armpit cysts, the fact that you don’t know why they occur is nearly as frustrating as the cysts themselves. Cysts under the arms affect both females and males. They are usually painless, but can become infected and painful.
In this article we offer helpful information not only about the symptoms and causes of cysts in the armpits, but also information on sebaceous cysts, cyst home remedies, removal options, and more.
What are cysts?
Cysts are not normally related to cancer. They are closed sacs or closed tissue pockets that may be full of pus, fluid or other materials, according to WebMD. The outer wall is called the capsule.
When you touch cysts, they feel like pimples or peas under the surface of your skin. They can also occur in organs, like the liver, kidney and more. They can occur anywhere. Age is not a factor, and men and women can both experience cysts. In this discussion, we’re focusing on the underarm cyst or the armpit cyst.
The most common underarm cysts are caused by epidermal inclusion, acne and sebaceous cysts. There are also pilonidal cysts, but these usually are found on the skin of the buttock cleft.
Symptoms of armpit cysts
Armpit cysts may be small – even microscopic – or larger and more noticeable. Cysts in or near the armpits have various causes they we’ll talk about in this article. The symptoms you experience are related to the cause of the cysts.
The most obvious symptom of an underarm cyst is a lump-like, abnormal structure that develops in your armpit. They are usually painless, unless they become inflamed, ruptured or infected. They grow only slowly, and they feel smooth when you roll them under your skin, according to WebMD.
Armpit cyst pictures
To give you an idea of what cysts look like, see the photo below. We’ll have more photos throughout this article.
What causes underarm cysts?
You can’t treat or remove cysts until you know their cause. Your physician can help in the diagnosis. Some common causes for underarm cysts include:
- Some deodorants
- Underarm shaving
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Fibrocystic changes
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Some vaccinations
- Buildup of keratin
Armpit cysts caused by bacterial infections
Armpits are moist, and not often exposed to light. This encourages the growth of bacteria. When this gets in the skin, it can cause cysts, particularly if the infection is staphylococcal or streptococcal in nature. These infections also lead to enlarged lymph nodes. Physicians generally prescribe antibiotics or anti-bacterial treatments.
Deodorant use and shaving
Cysts in the armpit may be caused by shaving under the arms, particularly if the person just started shaving their underarms. Adults can get armpit cysts from shaving, too. Proper shaving will handle that issue. Using some deodorants or antiperspirants can encourage the development of cysts, too.
Fungal or viral infections
Some infections of this nature may be the cause of armpit cysts. For example, HIV AIDS, (weakened immunity), chicken pox, shingles or sporotrichosis may lead to the development of cysts.
Fibrocystic breast changes
Some women have tender or lumpy breasts after their monthly period. These women may be more likely to have growths in the armpits that feel like cysts. It is caused by the extension of the tissue of the breast into the tissue of the underarms.
You may experience small underarm and groin cysts because there are so many sweat and oil glands in those areas. This is hidradenitis suppurativa, which causes clusters of boil-like infections or abscesses (that may actually not contain bacteria). This disease is most common in the apocrine sweat areas, including the buttocks, groin, inner thighs, under breasts and underarms.
You may at times have an allergic reaction to a vaccine against diseases like measles, rubella, typhoid, smallpox or mumps, among others. This allergic reaction may lead to enlarged or swollen lymph nodes or underarm cysts. These are only temporary.
Epidermoid cysts may develop under the arms due to a buildup of keratin. They are not cancerous. You can get them anywhere on your body, but they are more commonly found on the trunk, face and neck, as well as the underarms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
These keratin-related cysts grow slowly and they don’t need medical treatment. In addition, they cause no pain. If your cysts do develop pain, or become ruptured or infected, consult your physician.
Epidermoid cysts are seen more commonly in men than in women. The size varies from about 3mm to 5cm.
Armpit lipoma cyst
Lipoma is another cause of small armpit cysts. According to the Mayo Clinic, lipomas are fatty, slow-growing lumps that are usually found between skin and muscle. They are not symptomatic of cancer. They have a doughy feel and they move if you push on them. If an armpit lipoma cyst grows larger or becomes painful, it may require removal.
Cancer-related cysts under arm
The presence of an underarm lump doesn’t usually mean cancer, but it can. Lymphoma is the result of damaged lymphocytes in the node that is affected. It may ache. If your cancer spreads, you may experience other symptoms, including groin and neck lymph nodes, loss of appetite, itching, sudden weight loss, night sweats, fever and fatigue. Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can both case underarm lumps.
Other causes of armpit cysts
The list above doesn’t include all the reasons why you might have cysts in the armpits. Other potential causes include excessive sweating, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, autoimmune disorders, certain medications, breast cancer, infection of breast tissue, mononucleosis and cat scratch fever – yes, that’s a real disease.
Small cysts in the armpit
Small armpit cysts may be brought on by the causes we’ve discussed. The most common causes of small cysts under the arms are hidradenitis suppurativa, some sebaceous type cysts and lipoma.
Pilonidal armpit cysts
These are abscesses or cysts that normally occur near the natal cleft of the buttock area. They usually contain skin debris and hair. Rarely, they may also be found in the armpit. If you develop this type of cyst in your armpit, you will know it by the symptoms. They include underarm swelling and discomfort, along with excessive underarm moisture and an opaque yellow or bloody discharge from the area.
These can be treated with depilatory creams, hot compresses and antibiotics. If they are serious or do not improve, they may require surgical excision.
Infected underarm cysts
Cysts in the underarm may sometimes become infected, particularly if you pop them, or they burst. Infected cyst symptoms include warmth, pain, tenderness and redness. Infected cysts in the armpit may drain, and you may use warm compresses to help in encouraging the drainage. Otherwise, they could devolve into subcutaneous abscesses.
Do underarm cysts hurt?
Cysts are usually painless, but they can become painful in some cases. The pain may range from mild to severe, and you can even feel the pain before you see or feel the cyst. The pain usually worsens when you move your arm.
If your armpit cyst is painful, anti-inflammatory medicines will help in reducing inflammation and pain. Antibiotics may then be used to clear up any infection. To remove a cyst that does not heal in full, you may need laser or surgical intervention to remove the cyst completely.
Armpit sebaceous cysts
The sebaceous glands under your arms may become occluded. This causes the development of cysts that are filled with fluid. These are called sebaceous cysts and they can occur anywhere on the body. You may encounter these cysts in your left or right underarm, or both.
Sebaceous cysts in your armpit occur not only due to blocked sebaceous glands, but also because of swollen hair follicles, hereditary factors, use of androgenic anabolic steroids or high testosterone levels.
Symptoms of armpit sebaceous cyst
Some common symptoms include tender, sore skin, redness of skin, warmth in the area affected and a gray-white, foul-smelling, cheesy material that will drain from the cyst, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Treatment for sebaceous underarm cyst
These cysts do not usually require any medical treatment, particularly if they are small. Warm, moist compresses can help. If they become large or you want them removed, this can be done surgically. The process is simple, removing the sac and its contents. If the cyst is infected by bacteria, you may be prescribed antibiotics.
Armpit cyst removal
Usually, armpit cysts resolve themselves without help. Some, however, may need to be treated. The treatment or removal options depend on the cause. Your physician will confirm the cause of the cyst. A biopsy may be done if your physician suspects cancer. Usually, though, underarm cysts are NOT cancerous.
Popping & draining cysts
Some cysts will not resolve without popping and then draining. Popping requires a needle or scalpel and you should always have a specialist perform this procedure. This will not cure your cysts, but it relieves the symptoms, since it gets rid of the contents. The original cysts may heal by themselves, but popping may cause the cysts to reappear.
Medications & injections
Cysts can be shrunken with cortisone injections, which reduce the swelling. Underarm cysts that have become infected may need medications, like anti-fungals or antibiotics, depending on their cause.
Surgical removal of underarm cysts
If you’ve tried the more common treatments for cysts but have not succeeded in healing them, speak with your physician about the possibility of surgical removal of your armpit cysts. This is generally recommended only if they are large and troublesome. Large cysts can interfere with your normal daily activities. Laser surgery is also used to destroy cysts.
DIY Home remedies
Treating underarm cysts can be done with various home remedies. Some of the more popular remedies include washing the area with antibacterial soaps and applying hot compresses. If your cyst bursts, keep it clean using antibacterial ointment, so that it won’t become infected.
DO NOT under normal circumstances squeeze, open or pop your cyst on your own. This can lead to infection and scarring. It may also increase your risk for the development of further cysts. It is best to consult a physician if you have any concerns.
Cyst in female armpit
In girls or women, underarm cysts may be due to any causes we’ve previously discussed. In some cases, they may be associated with fibrocystic changes to the breast and women’s breast tissue infection. These causes only apply to women.
Cyst in male armpit
As we have mentioned, underarm cysts can affect anyone. This includes children, teenagers and adults. For boys or men, the cause may be any of those not listed under the sub-heading about female cysts.
There are cases when cysts in a male may be caused by things that don’t normally affect women. These include high levels of testosterone, or use of androgenic anabolic steroids.