Underarm Itch

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What is underarm itch?

An underarm itch is a tickling, irritating sensation accompanied by the persistent need to scratch your underarm. The medical term for itching is pruritus. Redness, swelling, soreness, flaking and scarring may occur in the area of itchiness. Although scratching may temporarily relieve your symptoms, persistent scratching can worsen underarm itch symptoms and leave the affected skin susceptible to contamination and infection. With most cases of itching, it is best if you can refrain from scratching and leave the area alone to heal.

Causes of underarm itch are numerous and include insect bites, allergies, infections, and trauma. When wounds are healing they often start to itch, which is a sign of improvement. Chickenpox, an extremely common childhood illness, is accompanied by red, oozing blisters that cause intense itching. Eczema and contact dermatitis are potential causes, as are conditions such as head lice, scabies, and pinworm. An underarm itch may stem from a rash or ingrown hair that is caused by shaving. The underarm area is continuously warm and moist, making it an ideal environment for a variety of fungal skin infections.

Obstructive biliary disease, caused by a blockage of the bile ducts, is condition that causes severe itching. Chronic kidney disease can also cause generalized itching.

Most causes of underarm itch are fairly mild and should not be a cause for concern. However, your health care professional should evaluate itching that is sudden, severe or unusual. Itching caused by a serious food allergy can come on rapidly with a strong need to scratch. This type of itching may be symptomatic of a serious anaphylactic reaction, which impairs breathing and causes swelling, fainting, and vomiting, and is considered a medical emergency.

Sudden itching can be a sign of anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a food, chemical, or insect sting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if an itch is accompanied by symptoms such as swelling of the face, swelling or constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing, fainting, change in level of consciousness or alertness, or rash.

What other symptoms might occur with underarm itch?

Underarm itch may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause underarm itch may also involve other body systems.

Related localized symptoms that may occur along with underarm itch

Underarm itch may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:

  • Crusting or flaking skin
  • Painful skin
  • Rash
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Scale formation
  • Tenderness or pain

    Other symptoms that may occur along with underarm itch

    Underarm itch may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

    Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

    In some cases, underarm itch may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have underarm itch along with other serious symptoms including:

    • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

    • Fever and chills

    • Joint pain and stiffness

    • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking

    • Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue

    • Tightness or constriction in the throat

    • Worsening of symptoms despite treatment

    What causes underarm itch?

    Underarm itch may have many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes such as stress.

    Allergic causes of underarm itch

    Underarm may be caused by contact dermatitis. Common triggers include:

    • Cosmetics, dyes or detergents

    • Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex and rubber

    • Metallic substances (various metals, copper, wire)

    • Poison ivy or oak

    Other allergic causes of underarm itch include:

    • Atopy

    • Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by allergy)

    • Food allergies (allergic reactions to certain foods)

    • Insect bite allergy such as a bee sting

    Infectious causes of underarm itch

    Underarm itch can also be caused by infections including:

    • Candidiasis (yeast infection)

    • Chickenpox

    • Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by infection)

    • Pinworm

    • Scabies

    • Tinea corporis (dermatophyte infection)

      Other causes of underarm itch

      Underarm itch can be caused by other conditions such as:

      Parasites, insects and arachnids that cause under arm itch

      Under arm itch can be due to insects, parasites or arachnids that bite the skin or burrow in the skin including:

      • Bedbugs

      • Fleas

      • Body lice

      • Mites

      • Mosquito bites (mosquitoes also carry parasitic diseases)

      • Ticks

      Serious or life-threatening causes of underarm itch

      In some cases, underarm itch may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

      Questions for diagnosing the cause of underarm itch

      To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your itch including:

      • When did the itching begin?

      • Are you taking any medications?

      • Do you have any known allergies?

      • Do you feel otherwise healthy?

      • Have you tried any new products recently, such as soaps, perfumes, sprays or deodorants?

      • Have you spent a lot of time outdoors lately?

      • Does scratching make it better or worse?

      What are the potential complications of underarm itch?

      An itch is not usually serious, but it’s important to determine its underlying cause and rule out a serious infection. Once the underlying cause of your itch is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications, including secondary infections, which may develop from scratching and related skin trauma.

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      Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
      Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 14
      THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
      1. Itching. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/itching.html.
      2. Ferri FF (Ed.) Ferri’s Fast Facts in Dermatology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2011.