The armpits are regions that are prone to develop a bad odor. The odor is caused due to accumulation of sweat, deodorant chemicals, and natural oils in the armpit area. In addition to bad odor, the armpits may also accumulate tiny specks of skin. These substances get trapped easily within the hairs of the armpits. In many cases, bad odor from armpits is not caused by any health problem. However, in some cases, the presence of armpit odor and specks of skin on the armpit hair may indicate the presence of an infection.
Read more on bad armpit odor.
What is trichomycosis axillaris?
Armpit hair infections are technically referred to as trichomycosis axillaris. The word “tricho” means hair, and the word “axillaris” refers to the axilla or armpit region. The word “mycosis” is a misnomer, since it indicates the presence of some fungal infection. However, trichomycosis axillaris is a bacterial infection that is caused by a specific genus of bacteria known as Corynebacterium.
Trichomycosis axillaris is a common armpit infection. However, it frequently goes unnoticed because of the lack of any long-term health complications. Moreover, there are no significant symptoms associated with this condition that may necessitate prompt medical treatment. However, the symptoms of bad odor may be bothersome enough for some people to seek medical treatment.
It is important to note that bad armpit odor is not always due to trichomycosis axillaris. Apart from the armpits, Corynebacterium infection of the hair may also occur in the pubic region. In such cases, the infection is referred to as trichomycosis pubis. In some people, both trichomycosis pubis and trichomycosis axillaris infections may co-exist. However, in most cases, trichomycosis infections are more likely to occur in the armpit region.
Signs and Symptoms
Trichomycosis axillaris usually does not get diagnosed for years. In fact, it is not unusual for people to go through their entire life without knowing that they have trichomycosis axillaris. This is because the condition is usually asymptomatic, and does not cause any serious health complications. Therefore, medical treatment is rarely sought.
One of the most common signs of trichomycosis axillaris is an offensive smell emanating from the armpits. However, bad smell from armpits is not a diagnostic sign of trichomycosis axillaris. There are other conditions that may cause smelly armpits in people. For example, poor armpit hygiene and excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) could also result in smelly armpits.
Concretions in armpit region
People suffering from trichomycosis axillaris may have concretions around the hair in the armpits. Concretions are small particles of various colors (black, red, or yellow) that may accumulate around the shafts of the hairs. In some cases, concretions may appear as nodules that are 1 to 2mm in size. The most common color of concretion in trichomycosis axillaris is yellow. The clothes may also get stained with these yellow-colored concretions.
Trichomycosis axillaris results from an overgrowth of bacteria on the surface of the skin, rather than a bacterial invasion of the underlying tissues. Since the bacteria does not invade the internal tissues, the usual signs and symptoms of bacterial infection are not present. In some cases, the bacteria may be able to gain access to the hair shaft. In these situations, a minor hair loss may be seen as the hair become brittle and fall off.
In the majority of cases of armpit hair infection, the skin of the armpits may not show any abnormalities. However, chronic skin infection of armpits with Corynebacterium can cause erythrasma or pitted keratolysis in some cases.
Read more on itchy armpits.
Causes of Trichomycosis Axillaris
Trichomycosis axillaris is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria belonging to the Corynebacterium genus. There are various species of bacteria that constitute the Corynebacterium genus. Bacteria of the Corynebacterium genus are a normal part of the microbial flora on the skin. Various species of bacteria and fungi reside on the human skin without causing any disease. Their populations are usually kept in check by various mechanisms.
However, some species of bacteria or fungi may start overgrowing under certain conditions, resulting in an infection. The growth of Corynebacterium is stimulated by the moisture and warmth of the skin in the armpit regions. For this reason, trichomycosis axillaris is more common in people who suffer from excessive sweating (technically referred to as hyperhidrosis).
Poor armpit hygiene could also contribute to trichomycosis axillaris. However, trichomycosis axillaris can also occur in people who have good armpit hygiene. Corynebacterium tenuis is the most common species responsible for cases of trichomycosis axillaris. It is important to note that certain fungal infections may also affect the hair shafts. A common example of a fungal infection that resembles trichomycosis axillaris is piedra.
Read more on armpit fungus.
Trichomycosis axillaris is more common after puberty. This is because the hair in the armpit region is more abundant and thick after puberty. Also, men are more prone to trichomycosis axillaris compared to women. This may be because women tend to shave their armpits more often when compared to men.
Diagnosis of Trichomycosis Axillaris
Since trichomycosis axillaris and piedra have similar appearance, it is important to know if the infection of the armpit hair is caused by bacteria or fungi. The presence of bacteria may be confirmed using the potassium hydroxide test. Furthermore, a bacterial culture may be done to confirm the identity of the causative organism. Treatments for trichomycosis axillaris and piedra are different because they are caused by different kinds of microbes. In some cases, both trichomycosis axillaris and piedra may co-exist in the same individual.
Treatment of Trichomycosis Axillaris
Most people who suffer from trichomycosis axillaris are unaware of its existence. Hence, people rarely seek medical treatment for this infection. Since they face no adverse health effects in the absence of any treatment, it seems that treatment may not be necessary in all cases.
The fastest way to treat trichomycosis axillaris is by shaving off the infected hairs. After shaving the armpits, one may use powders or antiperspirants to reduce sweating and prevent bacterial overgrowth in the region. Maintaining good armpit hygiene by washing and drying the area everyday will go a long way in preventing a recurrence of the infection.
When trichomycosis axillaris is persistent or recurrent, other treatments may be required. Application of gels containing benzoyl peroxide may be effective in treating the condition. If application of benzoyl peroxide does not help, then topical antibiotics (such as erythromycin and clindamycin) may be used.