Maybe you’ve been dealing with hidradenitis suppurativa for a while now. Or maybe you’re just starting to show signs of the chronic skin condition for the first time. You may be tempted to pick at those pesky cysts appearing on your armpits, groin or breast tissue, but no matter how inflamed, irritated or itchy they might be, picking at your cysts is the worst thing you can do.
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Dermatologist Asfa Akhtar, DO, explains why picking or popping your cysts is a bad idea, along with a few things you can do that are better at-home solutions.
Why you shouldn’t pop hidradenitis suppurativa
Hidradenitis suppurativa isn’t your usual acne, so don’t go popping them like normal pimples. The pits of hidradenitis suppurativa run so deep under your skin that they build tunnels with other cysts and fill up with a fluid mixture of blood and pus. If your cysts pop under your skin, you could cause an infection that spreads to other areas of your skin or to your bloodstream.
“I would not advise anyone to be playing with their cysts,” says Dr. Akhtar. “These cysts drain into your veins, so you could introduce bacteria that wasn’t there before and it can go the other way and cause an infection in your bloodstream.”
This can also lead to irreversible scarring and changes in pigmentation.
What you should do instead
In most cases, hidradenitis suppurativa cysts will drain on their own because your skin is thin enough and will break open easily. If you have a draining cyst, it’s important that you keep the area clean with antibiotic washes or rubbing alcohol, and keep the area bandaged until you’re able to see your doctor. If you use rubbing alcohol to clean an inflamed cyst, make sure you don’t resort to that method often, as you could dry out your skin and worsen your condition.
Warm compresses can also help drain your cysts. Dr. Akhtar recommends taking a warm shower and letting that water hit the affected area to help with drainage.
When to see your doctor for incision and drainage
At the first sign of cysts, you should see your doctor long before the cysts start to drain.
“You should never wait until it gets to that point,” cautions Dr. Akhtar. “As soon as you feel that you are getting any kind of pimples in your underarms or groin area, and acne treatments you might have done at home aren’t working, you should go see a board-certified dermatologist.”
If the affected area is increasingly inflamed or reddened and sensitive to pain, your doctor may suggest a steroid injection to reduce inflammation and stop cyst formation. Other possible solutions may also include laser hair removal or laser surgery for more severe cases.