Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), known also as acne inversa, is a chronic skin disorder that targets areas of the body close to the apocrine glands, a type of sweat gland found in the armpits, groin, buttocks and under the breasts. HS-USA, a Michigan-based support organization, says the disorder typically manifests “as a progression from single boil-like, pus-filled abscesses, or hard sebaceous lumps, to painful, deep-seated, often inflamed clusters of lesions.” For HS patients, pain relief is a top priority.
Incidence & Diagnosis
Although hidradenitis suppurativa is hardly a familiar term to most, the Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation, a San Diego-based support organization, estimates the disorder affects about 1 percent of all Americans. The foundation says that it often takes years or even decades to diagnose this chronic skin condition, which is widely misdiagnosed. If you suspect that you may have HS, see your dermatologist or family doctor. Fill him in on your family history and symptoms and show him any lesions (or scarring from past lesions) that are present at the time of the office visit. In addition to a visual exam of your skin, the doctor probably will order blood tests and microscopic analysis of any discharge fluids he may collect.
Cause & Risk Factors
MayoClinic.com says the skin disorder occurs when hair follicles and oil glands become blocked with a combination of excess fluid or oil, dead skin cells and other substances. Areas of blockage and the surrounding tissue become inflamed, and bacterial infection may further exacerbate the situation. Although HS seems to show no racial or ethnic bias, affecting all such groups fairly equally, the disorder does occur more often in women than in men. People who are somewhere between the onset of puberty and the age of 40 are most likely to develop HS, and genetic factors also appear to play a role in this condition.
Treatments to Relieve Pain
There is no cure for HS, but early treatment of the disorder’s lesions can control their spread and make symptoms, especially pain, more manageable. MayoClinic.com suggests that mild cases be treated with the application of warm compresses to affected areas, as well as washing those areas with antibacterial soap. Moderate cases may require topical and/or oral medication, including antibiotics, corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to drain infected areas or remove areas of scar tissue that have developed because of recurrent attacks.
“Hidradenitis Suppurativa: You’re Not Alone,” a blog written by an HS patient, offers some helpful tips for pain relief: Use ibuprofen to ease pain, and apply antibiotic ointment to lesions after they’ve stopped draining. If you are able to bathe, soak in a very warm (as hot as you can stand) bath, to which Epsom salts and green rubbing alcohol have been added. The blog author observes, “It draws out the infection and brings the abscess to a head and relieves some of the pain.” If you’re unable to bathe, apply very warm compresses to HS abscesses to draw out the infection and relieve pain.