Fungal infections of the skin are common problems and it is more likely to affect certain areas more frequently, like the feet, groin and scalp. These infections thrive in areas that are dark, moist and warm and the armpit is also one such area where fungal infections are likely to arise. Certain factors relatively unique to the armpits further contributes to the likelihood of an armpit fungus.
What is an armpit fungus?
An armpit fungus is a fungal infection in the axilla (one armpit) or axillae (both armpits). It may be caused by dermatophytes or yeasts. Dermatophytes are the more common causes of fungal infections of the skin and tend to cause superficial factors. However, due to unique factors the armpits are also prone to yeast infections most commonly from the Candida species of yeasts.
Fungal infections are relatively easily treated but can be persistent and may require ongoing treatment over weeks to months. These infections tend to recur especially if the underlying contributing factors are not removed or corrected. Although fungal infections are more commonly seen in humid tropical environments, it can affect people anywhere in the world particularly infections of the feet (athlete’s foot) and groin (jock itch).
Causes of Armpit Fungus
The causes of an armpit fungus can var to some degree with an infection caused by dermatophytes or yeasts.
Fungi are widely present in the environment and some even live on human skin without causing any problems. Most of the time fungal skin infections are due to dermatophytes, fungal species with specialized enzymes to digest keratin in the skin. These dermatphytes cause superficial infections. An armpit fungus due to dermatophyte infection would fall under the term tinea corporis which relates to most parts of the body and especially the torso.
Dermatophytes can easily be transmitted from one person to another through direct and indirect contact. It is also easily spread from one site of the body to another often through scratching an infected area and then transferring the fungus to an uninfected area. Sometimes these fungi may also be contracted from contact with soil and animals although this is uncommon.
Yeasts are a less common cause of skin fungal infections but tends to occur in certain areas like the folds of the body. It arises when there is a break in the skin as may occur during hair removal from the armpits or with excessive scratching of the armpits that may lead to tiny tears in the skin. Chaffing can also be one of the reasons as well as allergies to deodorants that may lead to dermatitis. Diabetics may also be more prone to skin yeast infections.
The most common yeast to cause a skin fungal infection is Candida albicans. It is one of the more common of the Candida species and usually resides on the skin surface as part of the normal skin flora. Candida albicans is the same yeast that causes vaginal thrush or oral thrush. As mentioned these yeasts will only lead to a skin infection when the integrity of the skin is compromised. Sometimes axillary candidiasis (armpit yeast infection) may be an extension of submammary candidiasis (breast fungus).
Signs and Symptoms
Dermatophytes cause a ring-like rash where the borders are red and raised and the center is normal skin or at times just dry. Therefore dermatophytes are often referred to as ringworm. However, this characteristic ring lesion may not be as easily evident on the armpits. Nevertheless the skin is dry, itchy and usually peeling or cracking with tiny blisters.
In yeast infections the skin is often itchy, burning and painful with tears in the skin that may be visible. There may also be a clear tissue fluid discharge. Sometimes a bacterial infection may superimpose the fungal infection and this can cause more intense symptoms like pain, redness, swelling and a foul-smelling discharge.
Prolonged fungal infections that are not promptly treated can lead to hyperpigmentation (dark discoloration of the skin) over time. There may also be some thickening of the skin with chronic scratching.
Pictures of Armpit Candidiasis
Treatment of Armpit Fungus
Fungal infections can be effectively treated with topical antifungal applications like ointments and powders. These applications have to be applied several times daily over a few weeks until the fungus can be eradicated. For yeast infections, the same ointments used for vaginal thrush can be effective. Sometimes antibacterial ointments may also have to be used to eradicate any secondary bacterial infection in the area.
If these topical applications fail to yield results then oral antifungal agents may be used. These drugs are stronger and need to be used for 4 to 6 weeks at a time. Oral antifungals should not be the first choice of treatment. Sometimes an initial infection is successfully treated but recurs shortly thereafter and this is mistaken for persistent infection. Instead the problem is that the underlying contributing factors have not been addressed as discussed under prevention.
Prevention of an Armpit Fungus
Preventative measures need to be instituted during the treatment stage in order to prevent recurrence. This includes:
- Treating fungal infections elsewhere on the body to prevent cross-infection of sites.
- Avoid sharing towels and other personal items with a person who has a fungal infection. It is not uncommon for these infections to rapidly spread among members of the same household.
- Keep the area clean with proper bathing but do not remove armpit hair immediately until the infection resolves. However, if the fungi are adhering to the hair then it may need to be removed.
- Avoid using antiperspirant roll-on deodorants that were previously used as the fungus may still be present on the applicator. If deodorants irritate the skin then it should not be used until the area heals with proper treatment.
- Use light clothing that allows for ventilation and prevents the build up of heat and sweat under the armpits as far as possible although this may not be entirely unavoidable.
- Consider using an antifungal drying powder as a daily measure if excessive sweating is a problem. Antiperspirant deodorants may also be helpful provided that it does not irritate the skin and avoid roll-ons.
Credits: Images sourced from atlasdermatologico.com.br.