Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition characterized by painful bumps in the skin. It often occurs where the skin rubs together, such as in the underarms, breasts, groin area, and buttocks.
HS can be unpredictable. There are times when symptoms flare and other times when symptoms go away.
Left untreated, HS can become infected. Here’s what to know about HS infections, plus tips to help you stay healthy.
With HS, hair follicles and sweat glands become clogged with keratin, a protein in our skin. As sweat and keratin buildup, these follicles and glands can become enlarged and inflamed.
As HS progresses, skin lumps can burst and become infected. They can also continue to grow and spread under the skin, creating tunnels. This can be painful and lead to scarring.
If you think you have an infection, it’s important to connect with your doctor to get it treated. The sooner you can start treatment, the better.
Meanwhile, taking steps to prevent flares and reduce the risk of infection can also help. Here are some things that you can do as part of managing HS.
Different treatments are available for HS. The goals of treatment are to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency and length of flares. Doing so can also help lower infection risk.
Treatments may include:
- oral or topical antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection or reduce inflammation
- retinoid medications to slow the growth of skin cells and suppress inflammation
- contraceptive pill to stabilize hormones (if hormones trigger HS flares)
- oral or injected steroids to reduce inflammation
- injected or infused biologic medications to suppress the overactive immune response that causes inflammation
- surgery to remove large areas of HS
- laser hair removal to prevent flares in hair follicles
It can take time to figure out the right treatment approach. The best way to treat your HS can also change over time. Check in regularly with your doctor. If your treatment isn’t working, ask about other options to help you manage HS and prevent infections.
Look for a product designed for the body and face. It may be labeled “antibacterial.” Some ingredients to look for include:
- benzoyl peroxide
- zinc pyrithione
When you clean your skin, make sure to be gentle and avoid scrubbing. Rubbing too hard can irritate skin and worsen inflammation.
Any damage to your skin makes it easier for bacteria to get in, increasing the risk of infection. That includes things like:
- bug bites
- shaving nicks
Clean any cuts or scrapes right away to reduce the risk of infection.
Consider using an antibacterial wash before you shave. This reduces the number of bacteria on your skin’s surface.
Waxing is not recommended for people living with HS. This type of hair removal can inflame your skin and hair follicles.
If you’re looking for a longer-term solution that’s safe for HS, consider laser hair removal. Laser therapy is often used to help manage HS and prevent flares.
Don’t pick at HS skin
It may be tempting to poke or pick at HS cysts or bumps. Do your best to avoid this.
Popping at an infected bump can release pus and spread the infection to other areas. This makes it harder for your skin to heal and is more likely to cause scarring.
If you’re dealing with a lot of cysts, pimples, sores, and lumps, ask your doctor about the best way to manage them.
If you have open sores or an infection, the right care can help reduce the spread of infection. It also can help you heal faster and reduce pain and scarring.
The best way to care for wounds will depend on the size and stage of the HS lesions. Work with your doctor to create a wound care plan that includes:
- how often to clean your wound
- how often dressings should be changed
- which products to use
Keep in touch with your doctor if you have any questions about how to care for wounds properly.
When you get overheated, you typically sweat more. Extra sweat can lead to more buildup in the follicles and sweat glands. This can worsen HS and trigger a flare for some people, which increases your risk of infection.
Sweat can be especially irritating in areas where skin rubs against skin, like in your armpits or buttocks. These are some of the same sites where HS is most likely to happen.
Do your best to stay cool. Wear loose, breathable clothing to help your skin stay dry and reduce friction. Tight clothing can be irritating and worsen inflammation.
There are many things you can do at home to help HS lesions heal, but sometimes you need extra support. It’s smart to know when to connect with your healthcare professional.
Schedule regular follow-ups with your doctor and stick with each appointment. Be aware of signs of infection that may warrant a call in between your regularly scheduled checkups. That includes when:
- your HS pain isn’t well-managed
- the wounds aren’t getting smaller
- you develop a fever
- the wound or the skin around it is red and hot
- there’s a lot of pus drainage
A big part of managing hidradenitis suppurativa involves following your treatment plan and taking steps to care for your skin. This can help you prevent or manage flares and reduce your risk of infection.
It’s also important to keep in touch with your dermatologist. These specialists can help you develop a plan to stay on top of your HS and feel your best.