By John C. Wolf, D.O.Associate Professor of Family Medicine Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine


Question: My armpits and groin are "sticky" and red. They hurt, too. I bathe regularly and use baby oil on them, but I am still uncomfortable. My doctor doesn't have any suggestions. What is causing this and what can I do to clear it up?

Answer: Skin is the largest organ of the body and consequently, my dermatologist friends argue that it is also the most important one. Of course all organs are important, but the skin does perform vital jobs in regulating the body temperature and protecting us from such things as chemicals, infectious germs (including viruses and bacteria) and parasites. In short, the skin does a good job of generally keeping the "stuff" on the inside on the inside and the "stuff" on the outside out.

Since your condition produces the same skin reaction at both the underarm and groin areas, it is reasonable to assume that both problems are caused by the same disorder. Consequently, something simple like an allergic reaction to an underarm deodorant product is not likely to be the cause.

You report getting no relief with the use of baby oil. This tells me that the condition is not the consequence of dry skin. Actually, that isn't a surprise. Baby oil, petroleum jelly, body lotion and similar products principally help hold extra moisture in the skin. They are very helpful for preventing dry skin at this time of year. However, the underarms and groin are areas of the body that rarely become dry. So all the baby oil has done is lubricate the skin so that it slides by with less discomfort. It hasn't addressed the underlying disorder.

Unfortunately, I can't tell exactly what is causing your inflamed skin without examining you, but I can give you a short list of possibilities. A yeast infection may be the cause of your discomfort. Yeast -- a type of fungus -- can thrive where the skin is warm, wet and mildly irritated. This is particularly a problem for those with diabetes. Do you have diabetes? .

Your doctor can often diagnosis a yeast infection simply by the appearance of the rash but at other times a sample must be painlessly scraped from the surface of the skin. The sample is then treated with potassium hydroxide and subsequently studied under the microscope for signs of this type of infection.

Another possible cause of your condition is psoriasis. This condition usually begins as an elbow rash with heavy silvery scales over a raised red base, but in my years of practice I've learned that not everyone reads the rulebook before they come down with an illness. Occasionally, a person with psoriasis first reports symptoms like yours.

Another possible cause for your skin problem is a condition called atopic dermatitis. This disorder is associated with allergies, particularly to the house dust mite. There is also an increased incidence of asthma in those with the disorder.

Since your family doctor wasn't able to offer you an explanation for the cause of your discomfort -- let alone a satisfactory treatment, I'd suggest that you see a dermatologist. I'm sure that your family doctor can recommend one in your area.

"Family Medicine" is a weekly column.

To submit questions, write to: John C. Wolf, D.O., Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Grosvenor Hall, Athens, Ohio 45701.

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