Quick Tips: 5 Ways to Treat an Underarm Cyst

By: Jason Nell & Brion O'Connor  | 

underarm cyst
Treating an underarm cyst is pretty easy to do on your own. IAN HOOTON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Finding unexpected lumps anywhere on your body can be unnerving — and potentially scary. If the lump is an underarm cyst, the problem is generally more annoying than dangerous.

Underarm cysts — or abscesses — often form when some of your epidermal skin cells don't slough off, but instead move down under the surface of your skin and begin to grow there. This often happens as a result of a hair follicle or an oil-producing sebaceous gland within the follicle becoming damaged [source: Mayo Clinic].

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Shaving could be to blame. But any kind of damage to the skin, such as a wound or exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays, can create the conditions that form a cyst [source: Mayo Clinic]. Once your skin is damaged or inflamed, that's when bacteria can enter. The cyst begins to form as your body tries to kill off the germs.

Underarm cysts are typically easy to see and feel. They're usually pinkish to red in color and are small sacs under the skin caused by the infection. They're filled with pus and bacteria and may look similar to a pimple. Unless it's infected, a cyst should be painless. They tend to be small — not much larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) across.

However, keep in mind not all underarm lumps will be cysts. You could have a swollen or irritated lymph node (gland that helps your body fight infection). You can determine the likelihood of it being a cyst by squeezing it between your thumb and forefinger. If its wiggles back and forth easily it's probably a cyst. Another good indicator that the growth is a cyst is if you've recently injured the skin near the bump. Acne, shaving and even antiperspirants can also irritate the underarm skin and cause cysts. But the only sure way to diagnose a lump under your arm is to have your doctor examine it.

Self-treating an Underarm Cyst

Good hygiene and washing regularly are great ways to care for your skin. Unfortunately, they don't always prevent underarm cysts. If the cyst is not causing any pain or discomfort, it can be left alone. However, if you are worried it is more than a cyst, or if the cyst ruptures or becomes infected, inflamed or painful, then treatment options — described below — are available.

1. Leave It Be.

Since most cysts are usually not harmful or painful, first and quite simply, don't treat it at all. It may go away on its own [source: WebMD]. And while you might be tempted to pop it like a pimple, don't. That can damage your skin and could lead to even more infection. Plus, it doesn't guarantee that the cyst won't return.

2. Apply a Warm Compress.

A good treatment option is to apply a warm, moist towel (or flax seed heating pad) to the cyst, which could help clear it up [source: MedlinePlus: Sebaceous]. If this does encourage the cyst to drain, cover it with a bandage.

3. See Your Doctor.

If the cyst begins to become painful or is infected, you should see your doctor for treatment. If the cyst is inflamed, your doctor can inject it with steroids to reduce the swelling before treating it further.

4. Have it Drained.

If it's necessary, your doctor may choose to drain the cyst. This, however, leaves the cyst intact, allowing the possibility of it returning [source: American Academy of Family Physicians].

5. Remove the Cyst.

In a worst-case-scenario, you can have the cyst completely removed. Your doctor can do an excision where he or she not only drains the pus, but also removes the inner sac — the lining of the cyst wall — so it doesn't grow back. Or your doctor can use a laser to vaporize it [source: Mayo Clinic].

None of these procedures require a hospital stay; all can be performed in your doctor's office. At most, they will require local anesthesia — and possibly a few stitches.

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Originally Published: Jun 27, 2012

Underarm Cyst FAQ

What causes cysts under armpits?
Armpit cysts often form when some of your epidermal skin cells don't slough off, but instead move down under the surface of your skin and begin to grow. Shaving or antiperspirant use are common culprits.
What does a cyst look like under the skin?
Cysts are usually pinkish to red small sacs under the skin, no more than 2 inches large. If infected, they're tender to the touch, filled with pus, and may look similar to a pimple.
Can I remove a cyst myself?
While it may be tempting to squeeze it, you should not try to remove a cyst yourself. A good treatment option is to apply a warm, moist compress on a regular basis to encourage it to drain. If it becomes infected or begins to hurt, it's time to see your doctor.
How do you get rid of armpit cysts?
If the cyst is not causing any pain or discomfort, it can be left alone — it may go away on its own. Otherwise, it's best to see your doctor. They may inject the cyst with steroids, drain it, or in a worst-case-scenario, completely remove it.
What does a lump near your armpit mean?
A lump under your armpit could be a number of things: a cyst, a swollen or irritated lymph node, a fibroadenoma, lipomas, or a form of cancer. You can determine the likelihood of it being a cyst by squeezing it between your fingers. If its wiggles back and forth easily it's probably a cyst. However, it's best to talk to your doctor if you're concerned.
What is the difference between a boil and a cyst?
Cysts and boils both look like bumps on your skin. Cysts aren't contagious and are filled with fluid or semisolid material. On the other hand, boils can spread bacteria or fungi on contact since they're inherently an infection. A cyst tends to grow slowly and isn’t painful unless it becomes infected, while a boil grows very quickly and is almost always painful.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. "Minimal Excision Technique for Removal of an Epidermoid Cyst." AAFP. April 1, 2002. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020401/1423ph.html
  • eCureMe. "Sebaceous Cyst." 2003. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.ecureme.com/emyhealth/data/Sebaceous_Cyst.asp
  • Hanson, Linda J. "Epidermal Inclusion Cyst." June 9, 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1061582-overview
  • Mayo Clinic. "Epidermoid Cysts." June 6, 2009. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sebaceous-cysts/DS00979
  • MedlinePlus. "Armpit Lump." Aug. 2, 2009 (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003099.htm
  • MedlinePlus. "Lymph System." April 13, 2009 (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002247.htm
  • MedlinePlus "Sebaceous Cyst." April 12, 2007 (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000842.htm
  • Moynihan, Timothy. "Tumor vs. Cyst." Jan. 9, 2009 (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tumor/AN00463
  • University of Rochester Medical Center. Cyst Animation; Dermatology Lexicon Project. (Sept. 27, 2009) http://www.futurehealth.rochester.edu/dlp2/DLPdict/animations/cystAnim.htm
  • WebMd.com. "Abscess Overview." April 18, 2018. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/abscess#1

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