UGH! A dreaded yeast infection. When yeast infections come to mind, we think of vaginal yeast infections. They cause so much discomfort with itching, burning and discharge. These types of yeast infections are typically treated by your obstetrician-gynecologist. Yeast infections can occur on the skin too. Read on.
A yeast infection or candida infection (candida is a type of yeast) is a common skin condition too that can affect skin folds such as the underarms and your dermatologist is very familiar with this. A yeast infection of the skin folds is referred to as intertrigo. It has some tell-tale symptoms such as itchy rash, red inflamed skin and sometimes pimples or other lesions that appear in an area typically well- confined to a moist skin fold.
There are particular medical conditions that put certain groups of people more at risk for this than others. But healthy individuals can also experience an armpit yeast infection.
What is a yeast infection?
Candida is a type of yeast and yeast is a type of fungus. Another condition known as pityrosporum folliculitis, is a yeast infection within hair follicles. Most funguses and yeasts in particular proliferate in specific settings, such as on moist skin that experiences very little air flow. This is why vaginal skin and underarms share a propensity for a yeast infection, owing to these areas of the body being moist areas without the benefit of aeration. A. yeast infection can also emanate at sites of friction where skin rubs on skin. Skin under the breasts or under the abdominal fold or thigh crease can all be affected.
What is the difference between a yeast infection and ringworm?
Other fungus infections that may erupt on skin are tinea or dermatophyte infections which are often seen on the feet (aka athlete’s foot). Ringworm is a fungal infection known medically as tinea corporis, and it affects the skin on the body and looks like scaly pink round patches. These rashes are often treated with the same medications as are used to combat yeast infections, even though these dermatologic entities are not the same.
The underlying causes of yeast infections.
Yeast is a normal inhabitant of the skin, mouth and the gut but when there is an overgrowth of yeast, an imbalance is taking place and inflammation and dermatitis can occur leading to the rash we all hate. That is when it may be time to seek a healthcare professional such as a dermatologist. Some of the most common causes or instigators of a yeast infection are:
- Skin moisture. An armpit rash can occur due to prolonged skin dampness along with irritation that comes from shaving or using deodorants that contain harsh chemicals or perfumes. Ironically, antiperspirants which are designed to reduce moisture, can lead to excess dryness. This can then set off a dermatitis of the armpit skin, which is then an “open door” for yeast to take hold.
- Skin folds (aka intertriginous skin) are by far the most commonly affected area that yeast infections crop up. This is due to the warm, moist skin environment of these sites and a lack of airflow which can cause the skin’s barrier function to break down and yeast organisms can overgrow.
- Diabetes or Hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) are medical conditions that can put you at higher risk of developing yeast infections.
- Warm or humid weather and moist environments lend yeast a perfect climate to proliferate. Yeast infections are seen more frequently in hot, humid climates.
- Immunosuppression such as HIV/AIDS can be a risk factor for yeast infections. Those who suffer from a weakened immune system are at greater risk for all types of skin infections including yeast infections.
- Corticosteroid use. In spite of the fact that dermatologists often use cortisone cream also known as topical steroid medications, for many types of rashes, it is well known that too much use of steroid creams particularly on certain body parts can lead to a yeast infection. So it is best to use steroid creams sparingly and only under the care of a doctor. Be particularly wary of using steroid/cortisone creams/hormone creams on skin folds.
- Tight clothing or other garments may add to chances of developing a yeast infection. Tight clothing especially when the fabric is moist with sweat, occludes the skin. This has two effects, the skin is irritated by friction and furthermore, the skin does not breath due to a lack of airflow. This is the recipe for a yeast infection.
- Chafing and friction can be precursors to a yeast infection. The skin rubbing heightens the chance of inflamed skin which can invite yeast organisms to overgrow. Underarms are at incresed risk for this due to shaving, clothing rubbing and skin on skin movement when doing exercise.
- Antibiotic medications can change the yeast/bacteria balance in the body and may allow yeast the upper hand, leading potentially to a yeast infection of underarms or other skin folds.
- Soaps, deodorants, antiperspirants and perfumes are generally well-tolerated. But when these products are used day after day in the armpit can lead to skin irritation that may include the occurrence of a yeast infection. The armpit is a skin fold which when a product is applied there may have a more prolonged skin exposure duration owing to the lack of and lack of evaporation.
How can I treat armpit yeast infection?
- Keep skin dry but in moderation. Avoid excess moisture and excess dryness. Use a hairdryer on a cool setting to fully aerate damp skin after a shower or bath.
- Antiperspirants and deodorants can help keep yeast infections away but take note of skin irritation. If you think your product is reacting with your skin, take a break from it.
- I typically advise against home remedies.
- Over the counter medications are the first option I recommend for a suspected yeast infection. Start with a topical antifungal cream such as miconazole. Another option is topical ketoconazole cream known as Nizoral.
Prescription medication for an armpit yeast infection
You need to see your healthcare provider to obtain these medications. Please see your doctor if you have a persistent rash. Allow an expert to determine the cause of the rash. Yeast infection rashes can look similar to other rashes like eczema and psoriasis, as well as other infections such as a bacterial infection, so get it checked out.
Fluconazole and nystatin are anti-yeast oral medications that a doctor may prescribe for you after a thorough examination and evaluation. Some antifungal pills have serious side effects in some patients, so discuss the pros and cons of taking these medications with your doctor.
This is not intended as medical advice, please see your doctor for evaluation of your health.