Unless you know someone personally, you’ve probably never heard of a chronic inflammatory disease called hidradenitis suppurativa. While the name alone is a mouthful to say, this disease is a lot for those who have it as well. It not only affects them physically—but also mentally and socially.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa, it’s important to know you aren’t alone. Learn how to slow its progress and take back control of your life.
What is hidradenitis suppurativa exactly?
Put simply, hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), is a life-long skin disease involving the sweat glands near hair follicles that causes deep, painful boils or abscesses in your skin.
“It most commonly occurs around the underarms, groin, buttocks and breast areas—but can occur anywhere with sweat glands,” said Kumash Patel, MD, a general surgeon at Banner Health in Glendale, AZ. “When these glands become blocked, they can fill with fluid, become infected and break open—spreading to larger areas of the skin. After the boils heal, thick scars can form.”
HS is also known as acne inversa, but it’s not acne at all. While acne inversa might generate pimples, these boil-like bumps can grow very deep into the skin and the pain can be debilitating—significantly affecting people’s quality of life. Besides the white pus from a pimple, HS often leaks foul-smelling pus that can stain clothing.
Treatments for hidradenitis suppurativa
Although there is no cure or way to prevent flare-ups, there are several treatment options available to lessen the severity and recurrence. Just be patient, as it may require some trial and error with you and your health care team. “Hidradenitis suppurativa can vary with each episode and with each patient,” Dr. Patel said. “There’s not any one treatment that works every time or for everyone.”
The severity of HS is divided into three stages, called Hurley stages. In the early stages of HS, these at-home treatments may help:
- Use a warm compress on the affected area for 10 minutes at a time.
- Maintain good hygiene.
- Use antibacterial soaps, antiseptics and anti-inflammatory medications.
- Wear loose-fitted clothing to prevent rubbing or friction against the skin.
“For more advanced flare-ups, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics (such as clindamycin, rifampin, or gentamicin), oral retinoid medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors (such as Humira),” Dr. Patel said.
For more severe cases of hidradenitis suppurativa, your doctor may recommend the following surgical and laser treatments:
- Laser hair removal
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) laser therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Surgery to remove the damaged tissue
How to manage hidradenitis suppurativa?
People with hidradenitis suppurativa can find this disease difficult to live with—especially young adults who may be sensitive about how they look. It can be painful, embarrassing and socially isolating. HS is unpredictable, and while you can’t prevent it, you can take steps to lower your risk of a flare-up:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid smoking.
- Don’t shave near breakouts.
- Clean affected areas daily with antibacterial soap.
- Follow your health care team’s advice.
- Watch what you eat: Avoiding dairy, sugary foods and brewer’s yeast may minimize flare-ups in certain people.
Hidradenitis suppurativa can affect not only your body but your self-esteem. If you feel like you’re a prisoner of your disease, schedule an appointment with your health care provider. Early treatment can help reduce scarring and arm you with the tools to live your best life.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.