A burning sensation on the skin usually indicates an increase in the surface temperature. However, this burning sensation can also arise without external sources of heat. Burning may therefore be a sign of inflammation, which can arise for a number of different reasons, such as injury, infections, allergies and so on. The skin of the armpits are just as prone as skin elsewhere on the body, if not more so.
Why do the armpits burn?
The armpits have a high concentration of sweat glands and is therefore one of the more sweaty areas of the body. This is exacerated by the fact that it is tucked in between the chest and upper arm and stays warm most of the time. Furthermore, the armpits have thick terminal hair in adults which further contributes to the the rise in temperature. As with any fold of the skin, there may be constant rubbing which can also irritate the skin (intertrigo).
All of these factors – moisture, heat and rubbing – can cause irritation of the skin. There is a greater chance of injury, inflammation and infections of the armpit skin. Many of the conditions that cause a burning sensation in armpits can also occur elsewhere in the body. If a burning sensation is persisting, worsening or other symptoms arise over time then it needs to be investigated by a medical professional.
Causes of Burning Armpits
The armpits have a high concentration of sweat glands and while this is a sweaty area of the body, some people tend to sweat excessively. Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) is one of the most common causes of armpit symptoms like a burning sensation. It is a common problem that affects many people. The sweating can irritate the skin, stimulate scratching and increase the chance of infections. All of these consequences may result in burning armpits along with other symptoms like itching and sometimes even a rash.
Injury of the skin can occur for many reasons and may lead to burning armpits. The trauma may be mechanical as may occur when shaving the armpits or scratching vigorously especially with long fingernails. It can also be due to chemical injury which may occur with the use of certain hair removal creams or even some perfumes and deodorants that may not have been suitable for use directly on the skin. Although uncommon for the armpits, sunburn may also occur in this area and cause a burning sensation..
Irritation of the skin may occur for host of different reasons. Irritants usually do not cause overt damage to the armpit skin with immediate contact, as occurs with the injuries discussed above. Instead the presence of these irritants gradually damages skin and causes inflammation. This is also known as irritant contact dermatitis.
Sweat, water, soap, perfumes or deodorants and even detergents can act as skin irritants. Itching, a red rash and a burning sensation are some of the symptoms that arise with irritant contact dermatitis. Usually the symptoms ease and even resolve once exposure to the irritants is discontinued.
Allergies are a result of the immune system overreacting to harmless substances. When substances come into contact with the armpit skin and elicit and allergic reaction then this is known as allergic contact dermatitis. This may include soaps, detergents, dust and fragrances among other substances (allergens).
Unlike with skin irritants, the allergens trigger an immune reaction even without there being damage to the skin. Some allergy-related conditions, like atopic dermatitis (commonly known as eczema), have a predilection for the folds of the body such as the armpits.
The skin of the armpits can become infected by a number of different infectious agents. Viruses can cause localized infections, like in warts, but more often when there are skin rashes due to viruses it is a result of a systemic infection. Bacteria and fungi are the most common causes of skin infections.
Sometimes the hair follicles can become infected on its own which is referred to as folliculitis. Most of the time it is bacterial. Fungal infections of the skin are also common and can be chronic. These fungal infections are also sometimes referred to as a skin ringworm.
An abscess is a collection of pus and can occur anywhere on or in the body. The armpit is one of the commonly affected sites where superficial abscesses occur. It may be felt as a lump in the armpit and there are usually other signs of inflammation such as pain, tenderness and/or heat of the skin over the abscess.
An abscess is a way for the body to wall off an infection. It can affect any person when there is a break in the skin which allows bacteria to enter the deeper tissue. However, it tends to be more common and occurs more often in people who have weakened immune systems.
A range of skin diseases can affect the skin of the armpits. Most of these conditions are not unique to the armpit skin. Atopic dermatitis and psoriasis are some of the skin conditions that may occur in this area. Hidradenitis suppurativa is a condition where the follicles of the armpits become blocked and this leads to skin inflammation. It is not due to an infection but can sometimes complicate to result in an abscess.
Various nerve conditions can cause a burning sensation even though there is no injury, infection or other damage to the skin and structures of the armpits. A network of nerves is located in the axilla which is known as the brachial plexus. Trauma, compression, infections, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and certain drugs are some of the possible causes of axillary nerve problems that may result in a burning sensation or burning pain.
The blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nodes, muscles, tendons and ligaments in and around the axilla may also be the cause of a burning sensation. Similarly injury, infections or inflammation to the surrounding bones can also result in armpit burning. Another possibility is that a burning sensation or pain may be referred from a problem elsewhere in the body, usually from the areas surrounding the armpits.