Embarrassing underarm problem.
October 24, 2011 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem: persistent underarm fungus. Help me be fungus-free!

Back in June, I went to see a NP for a physical exam. I asked her about a pink, itchy armpit rash. She then noticed a small patch on my leg and guessed that I had spread the rash when shaving. She thought it was a fungus that developed due to heat and humidity, and she suggested throwing away my razor, avoiding deodorant temporarily, and applying Lamisil a few times a day. I did these things, and the fungus did eventually go away after a long while (about 2 months). Now it's back, and it's on the other armpit, too. I'm still doing what was suggested, but I'm not seeing any results this time. The patches are still pretty itchy and raised, and they get red and irritated if I rub them too much. Sometimes they are a bit flaky, too.

Here are some photos. They are kind of icky. One photo of each armpit.

Armpit 1 and Armpit 2

Before I begin the long wait to see a dermatologist, any ideas?
posted by sucre to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
IANAD, but your pictures look similar to when I am having an eczema flare-up. Might be worth asking a doctor about if you decide to go that route, although it's probably worth mentioning that I've never had much luck with doctors efficiently treating my eczema. When I get a flare-up, the only thing that helps besides time (and I'm usually talking months, not days) is vigilant moisturizing and avoiding scratchy fabrics. I've heard antihistamines can help too, but that's never really worked for me.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:28 PM on October 24, 2011

You could always try talking to a pharmacist - they can probably determine if it's a fungus or if it's eczema.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 PM on October 24, 2011

I once had a doctor say, "Eh, try some anti-fungal for a couple of weeks on that rash. If that doesn't work, try hydrocortisone for a couple of weeks." Anyway, my daughter gets itchy sore spots that look like that and it goes away in a few days with hydrocortisone. She gets it in her armpits and the backs of her knees.
posted by artychoke at 7:43 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Gold Bond Medicated Powder. Seriously, try it - this stuff is magic on anything like that!

I had some patches like that which had been plaguing me off and on for YEARS. Gold Bond Powder applied 2x daily cured them - CURED - in 48 hours.

Best stuff ever!
posted by ErikaB at 7:46 PM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

There is a prescription cream to treat that fungus. Unfortunately, it will return even with the prescription medication. Anything that you put into or on your body will be filtered through your liver. A strong prescription medication doesn't cure it, it will just calm it down faster than the over the counter stuff like lamisil, so it may not be worth using a stronger medication since it will return at some point.

It is your body chemistry that is causing it. I am guessing that it is worse when you sweat more like during the summer and when you exercise.

Try eating a vegetarian diet and see if that helps.

The medicated powder ErikaB suggested may do wonders since it will keep the area dry.

Good luck.
posted by Yellow at 8:02 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It looks like spots I get on my bits and bobs from time to time.

Desonide usually clears things up fairly quickly. It's prescription only in the US. You could call your doc back and tell them the rash thing is back and you'd like a prescription strength topical steroid. If they determined it was definitely 100% fungal, ask for a prescription strenghth anti-fungal.

I have never had luck with OTC anti-fungals or steroids. YMMV. IANAD. etc.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:06 PM on October 24, 2011

Seconding the need for a prescription if it's eczema. I get eczema once in a while, and it's been due to different causes of irritation. Hydrocortisone 1% (over the counter strength) never does a thing for it, but a day or two with a prescription strength steroid and I feel better fast. That itch is like no other. I've used triamcinolone acetonide and fluconoside (Lidex), and both worked. Once it was prescribed by my nurse practitioner (primary care) and once by my allergist.

One doctor also thought I had a fungus, like you, and had me treat with Lamisil for a week. It gave me no relief at all, so then I got the steroid. It made sense to me to try, since it was during a heat spell and it was in a confined area of skin, and because it's my understanding that steroids impair the immune system, and you wouldn't want that going on if there really is an infection.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:18 PM on October 24, 2011

My husband had a persistent rashy area for years (years!). When he told his doctor that the regular athlete's foot goo wasn't working, she prescribed him a steroid cream that cleared it right up. Apparently, it never occurred to him to tell his doctor that he didn't want a rashy area.
posted by freshwater at 8:23 PM on October 24, 2011

Try Lotrimin. It is a different class of anti fungal.

It's not necessarily better, but it may be effective when Lamisil doesn't work.
posted by NoDef at 8:26 PM on October 24, 2011

I experienced nail fungus and skin eczema as side effects from chemotherapy. I tried everything mentioned here, and a prescription from dermatologist -- nothing worked. I went online and saw rave reviews about apple cider vinegar ("mother" type, from organic grocery) and I applied it straight for 2 weeks and all fungi, vanished, gone, never returned, yay. Definitely worth trying!
posted by thinkpiece at 8:40 PM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

It doesn't look to me like Tinea versicolor, but based upon your memory of what you doctor said to you, that's probably what they thought it was. Go to the supermarket and look in the anti fungal section of the first aid aisle. You'll notice that there are probably 10 different types of creams and in those, probably 4 different active ingredients. Try one for few days, if it doesn't work, go back and try another. If you have the right one, you should see results within two or three treatments although it might take weeks to get it gone for good (...and by good, I mean a few months...) I probably tried three different brands before I found one that worked which happened to be the least expensive (and the "store" brand.)
posted by pwb503 at 8:55 PM on October 24, 2011

White vinegar has worked for me.
posted by brujita at 9:43 PM on October 24, 2011

I get spots like that when I am under physical or emotional stress.

I find they clear up when I get healthy.

Yes! Do topical treatments. Don't ignore your general well-being in the process.

I've had this off and on since a child. My life was pretty bad when I was young, and that's when it was really really bad. My current spots are less than 2cm a piece, and there are only 3. But in the same locations as bigger flare-ups. My son is 6 months old, and I got pretty sick after his birth. I'm expecting these spots to clear up shortly now that I am feeling much much better and taking vitamins + I'm well enough to exercise and function very well, much better than even when I was pregnant.

YMMV. But take care of yourself generally to help your body heal as you pursue other solutions!
posted by jbenben at 10:06 PM on October 24, 2011

Looks exactly like what I get on my thumb from time to time. It starts itching before it does anything else, then pops up some tiny, viciously itchy bumps, then they turn to little blister like things that pop, and by that time it's spread all over my thumb. After trying everything OTC ever made and prescription antifungals and steroid creams, I've finally managed to end it before it spreads, but it's a little uncomfortable for a few minutes. I scrape the top off all the bumps with a scissors blade held at an angle so it won't cut but will take the top of each little bump off, then I pour rubbing alcohol all over my thumb - and the scissors - let it air dry, then apply Zovirax/acyclovir cream (prescription from my doctor, who sighed when she gave it to me, but did anyway - because it works), then wrap the whole thumb in a big band-aid and leave it like that for a couple of days.

I know - it sounds ridiculous - but if it works, it's worth it - period. The scraping and alcohol is necessary because the acyclovir ointment won't stop the spread or clear up the bumps by itself, and the ointment is necessary because the alcohol treatment only stops things for a couple of hours and then it's fired up and itching and spreading again - so it takes both treatments. IANAD and YMMV and all that, of course, but if you're desperate, you might try this.

I think most doctors approach this kind of thing with a trial period of half a dozen different things until they find the one that does the trick - if they ever do - because it's dang near impossible to tell exactly what they're dealing with just by what it looks like and most common lab tests are unreliable at best. A dermatologist is a good idea, but even they don't always get it right; my uncle was a cash cow for several dermatologists over many years and I don't think they ever did figure out exactly what he had that was making him so miserable, but it was a mess.

I should add that I used to have a prescription for oral acyclovir and I'd take a few doses of that along with the ointment and it would clear up in one or two days, but the ointment itself takes more work and the extra topical treatment with the alcohol.

Good luck - I hope you get it cleared up because it looks very uncomfortable.
posted by aryma at 10:37 PM on October 24, 2011

Nthing that it resembles my eczema. Elocon (prescription) cream is the only thing that works for me consistently, though moisturizing helps.

One thing to think about is that over time I have developed allergies/rashes from pretty much all deodorants. The only things that don't make me break out at this point would be either Almay or Total NonScents. You might want to consider that deodorant allergy could be the cause of your problem.
posted by gudrun at 11:39 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

And even if it is a fungus that can be treated with Lamisil, have you also washed your clothes and sheets in hot water? Maybe you just re-infected yourself and just need another go of the stuff.
posted by Namlit at 1:34 AM on October 25, 2011

My friend had a recurring yeast infection in her armpit. Once it cleared up, she gave up shaving and now only waxes, which is something you might want to consider.
posted by jrichards at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2011

Go to a dermatologist, you can get a more specific diagnosis and treatment. Don't be embarassed, armpits are a PITA. I do not understand those girls who have perfectly blemish-free armpits, they are a freak of nature. I have very sensitive skin in general and doubly-so in any areas that get sweat and friction. My problem is apparently bacterial, so I use an antibacterial scrub (Hibiclens, OTC) and lotion (Clindamicin, rx) after every shave. Also I use a lot of baby powder all over after a shower to minimize sweating/rubbing/itching. Oh and my derm recommended using a new razor head every time I shave, although I find that a bit pricey!
posted by radioamy at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2011

Oh and make sure you use unscented deodorants/antiperspirants. I liked Almay but then was unable to find it for a while. Dove Unscented is good but when I moved to the South it wasn't strong enough. I basically tried a whole bunch of unscented products from the drug store and settled on Sure Unscented (which conveniently is not expensive).
posted by radioamy at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2011

I started using Nizoral, a dandruff shampoo, topically on affected areas. Heard about it on the interwebs. I only have to apply it once when I'm feeling itchy or uncomfortable and it will take care of it for weeks, but it doesn't get rid of it as far as I know. Maybe I'm just re-introducing it?
posted by wwartorff at 9:01 AM on October 25, 2011

If its a fungus, Lotrimin powder! Keeps you dry and kills the fungus. I have the same problems under my breasteses in the summer. Lotrimin powder makes me happy.
posted by PJMoore at 11:09 AM on October 25, 2011

Wow! I didn't expect so many great answers. I just bought some apple cider vinegar from the co-op and I'll get some Gold Bond ASAP. I appreciate all the suggestions and personal anecdotes. Time for some armpit troubleshooting! Thanks y'all!

Oh, and back in the spring I was given some cream for eczema on my face (this was in France so I'm not sure of the equivalent brand name). I'm still plagued by those spots, though they've improved. This current problem seems much worse- very red at times and really raised. But it definitely could be eczema there as well.
posted by sucre at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2011

A little update: I tried the ACV but it made my underarm troubles redder and more flaky. I started applying hydrocortisone a few days ago and... wow. Why didn't I try this before?! It seems to be doing the trick, at least for now. Thanks everyone!
posted by sucre at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2011

Just saw your followup. Once it heals, try switching to a hypoallergenic deodorant, as your problem is probably eczema and may have been caused by an allergy to your deodorant. Be sure to also use a mild soap on that area, like Dove for sensitive skin unscented, for example. If all that does not do the trick, switch your laundry detergent to one for sensitive skin as well.
posted by gudrun at 9:27 AM on November 19, 2011

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