Armpit Lump: Possible Causes, Symptoms, and What to Do

The armpits are an often forgotten part of the body. The skin of the armpits is full of apocrine glandsas well as skin near the genitals, anus, or nipples.

These glands secrete the so-called “apocrine sweat”, which is responsible for the bad body odour related to sweat, as the bacteria in our skin feed on it, releasing aromatic substances.

When a lump occurs in the armpits, it is usually due to the blockage of these apocrine glands, although May also be due to skin infectionssystemic viral infections such as Herpes or AIDS, as well as benign tumours or even cancers.

In this article we review the causes of armpit lumps, as well as their symptoms and the necessary measures to be taken in each case.

Causes of armpit lumps

Lumps in the armpits have various causesof variable gravity. The symptoms that accompany the development of the lump change depending on the reason for its appearance, but in any case the best idea is to go to the doctor, especially if we are not sure what exactly is the lump that has appeared in the armpit.

Whether the cause is a serious infection or a cancerous process, rapid action can greatly improve our chances of overcoming the process without long-term sequelae.

Among the most common causes of lumps in the armpits we can find:

1. Hidradenitis suppurativa (Boils or Swallows)

Boils, also known as swallowsThe most common causes of Hidradenitis suppurativa, a disease with strong genetic components but also environmental factors that condition its appearance. They occur in areas with apocrine glands, especially those that have hair or are exposed to constant rubbing.

Characterized by obstruction of the apocrine glandswhich result in a pus-filled structure -due to an infection, usually by Staphylococcus aureus– which can come in different forms. Before the appearance of swallows or boils, we can notice a reddening and hypersensitization of the skin, followed by the appearance of pimples.

After this, the swallows may appear as small purplish nodules, which usually resolve spontaneously, but cause pain and discomfort. If the obstruction and damage to the glands is deep, Painful, pus-filled abscesses may formwhich may require medical attention to prevent its complication – such as the formation of fistulas.

The swallows most commonly affect women, some of whom are three times more than men.. Approximately 1% of the population suffers from Hidradenitis suppurativa, due to genetic factors but also environmental, such as smoking (70% of people with boils are smokers) or obesity.

2. Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are nodular structures found throughout our body, especially in the neck, armpits, breasts and groin. They have key roles in the functioning of the immune system, as well as in draining excess fluids that occur in the body.

When a lymph node becomes swollen it can cause lumps and pain, but it does not result in suppurating structures such as some boils. This inflammation is usually benign. and be associated with bacterial infections of nearby tissue, such as skin or breast tissue.

In some rare cases, this inflammation occurs because of the accumulation of tumour cells in the lymph node. This occurs mainly when there is a cancer in the process of metastasis. When the ganglion exceeds 4cm in diameter or is located on the clavicle instead of under the armpit, its study and biopsy are very important, as these factors are related to greater malignancy.

In some cases, this inflammation is caused by systemic viral infections, such as those caused by the herpes virus or the AIDS virus.

3. Cysts

Cysts, especially sebaceous cysts, can cause a lump in the armpit. Cysts are closed structures, like a water balloon, that sometimes contain pus and dead cells (called abscesses), but depending on their composition they can be full of liquid, semi-solid or even full of air.

The cause of cysts is not always clear, although in sebaceous or dermal cysts it is usually accompanied by an infection.. In fact, in some cases these cysts affect internal organs, bones, or even muscles. In some cases they disappear on their own, but on other occasions they are structures present from birth.

Most cysts are benign, but depending on their location and composition they can cause other symptoms that can only be resolved with medical-surgical intervention.

4. Lipomas

The lipomas are abnormal growth of fat cellsthose that store body fat. They’re a tumor, but they’re usually benign. They do not become infected, as they have no communication with the outside world, and their malignancy rate is very low.

Lipomas can cause problems depending on their size and location, but these are solved by removing the tumor. They are solid, but soft to the touch, with a consistency reminiscent of rubber.

It is most common in people over 40 years of age, especially those with obesity, excess blood cholesterol or diabetes.

What to do when faced with a boil or swallow

Whenever we notice the appearance of a strange lump on the body, the wisest thing is to go to a doctor who is able to diagnose the problem and offer us appropriate treatment. Even so, there are certain measures we can take in the face of the appearance of a lump in the armpit, especially if it is a boil or swallow, which is usually the most likely cause.

It is of paramount importance do not handle the packageespecially not to drain or open it. This can cause deep damage to the structure of the skin, which can worsen the situation by enlarging the boils.

In addition, we must keep the area clean. Boils usually resolve on their own in a few days, as long as we keep the affected area clean. This process usually accelerates with heat and humidity, so professionals recommend applying warm damp cloths for about 20 minutes, about 3 times a day.

If the boil opens, we must cover the resulting wound while our body expels the pus. The bandage has to be changed daily and the area has to be cleaned twice a day with soap and water. Boils can be contagious, so it’s best to avoid sharing clothes or towels while present.

If we notice that we have a swallow and it does not disappear or opens on its own in about 10 days, we should see a doctor. If there is more than one boil nearby, grows to a size close to a ping pong ball, causes unbearable pain, or causes a fever, we should also see a doctor for drainage and treatment as soon as possible.

Bibliographic references

  • Suppurative Hydrosadenitis Online. Retrieved from on 25/09/2019
  • VILA MAS, A., & PUIG SANZ, L. (2003). Folliculitis and forunculosis. Clinic and treatment. Professional Pharmacy, 17(1), 78-81.
  • Habif TP (2016). Bacterial infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.