1. Non-Regular Washing

Sweat and dirt, mixed together and broken down by bacteria that normally live on the skin, is the main cause of itchy skin. Regular washing helps. 

2. Excessive Sweating (Hyperhidrosis)

A cause of excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) is not certain. Excessive sweating may appear only in the armpits or also on the face, hands or feet.

3. Candida Infection

Candida albicans is a yeast normally living on the human skin, but in conditions with low immunity such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS, blood disorders, chemotherapy, corticosteroid therapy, it may overgrow, especially on moist areas of the body -  in the mouth, armpits, groin, under the breasts, and in the skin folds. Additional risk factors are hot humid weather, tight synthetic clothes, obesity and poor hygiene.

Affected area may be covered with red rash, peel off, itch, or swell.

Treatment is by anti-fungal medications by mouth or as over the counter (OTC) creams. Prevention is by keeping underarms dry by wearing airy clothes, using baby powder and, if necessary, losing weight.

4. Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa is an inflammation of apocrine (scent) glands, a special form of sweat glands responsible for the odor of the body. From an unknown reason, glands become clogged, secretions build within them and form cysts that get infected, usually by Staphylococcus aureus. After several hours or days, cysts usually open and drain clear or yellow fluid. Inflammation leaves scars. Process may continue for several years. Cysts may appear in armpits, groin or under breasts.

Treatment options:

  • Antibiotics by mouth or as ointments
  • Injections of anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Surgical drainage or excision of cysts

Prevention. Hidradenitis suppurativa is not caused by poor hygiene. Underarm shaving has to be avoided and the area kept dry by wearing airy clothes. Losing weight, if necessary, can help.

Fox-Fordyce Disease

Fox-Fordyce disease is a rare disease resembling hidradenitis suppurariva occurring mainly in young women (13-35 years of age). Sweat glands become clogged, and small itchy bumps appear under the arm or/and in the groin. Treatment is like in hidradenitis suppurativa.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes in armpits may itch in:

Disorders that cause generalized itching may also affect armpits. These disorders include senile pruritus, heat rash, kidney and liver diseases, allergies, adverse effects to medications, skin or intestinal parasites, contact dermatitis, internal cancer.

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Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on August 3, 2013