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5 Tips for Bandaging HS Under the Arms

Medically reviewed by Julia Mhlaba Riley, M.D.
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Posted on August 22, 2023

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) lesions in your underarms can be difficult to bandage, interfering with daily activities, from walking your dog to hugging a loved one, and putting a damper on special events. “Today, I celebrated my daughter’s graduation,” wrote one myHSteam member. “Unfortunately, with my armpits being so bad, I had to put Kleenex under my arms and wear a jean jacket.”

Another member shared, “I’m bandaging an underarm flare-up today. Sigh.”

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic skin condition also known as acne inversa. This inflammatory disease causes painful lesions in the armpits, between the inner thighs, under the breasts, in the groin area, around the buttocks, and between skin folds or anywhere skin rubs together. Some HS wounds look like pimples, but they can develop into cysts, abscesses, or open wounds that need bandaging.

To better understand how to bandage HS under the arms, myHSteam recently spoke with Dr. Julia Riley, a dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an assistant professor of dermatology at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Talk to a dermatologist or your health care provider if you have questions about HS wounds or treatment options.

1. Create a Bandaging Checklist

Consider making a checklist of the wound care supplies you need for bandaging underarm lesions. Determining your ideal strategy may call for trial and error, but taking notes can help you remember what worked and what didn’t. A checklist can also help you organize your supplies before you start dressing your HS wounds.

“Make sure you have everything set up in one place before you begin,” Dr. Riley said. “The worst thing is forgetting something and then having to go and grab it in the middle of applying your wound care dressing.”

Dr. Riley also recommends cleaning the affected areas before you begin bandaging. A supply list for wound cleaning might include:

  • Antibacterial soap
  • A gentle cleanser
  • Warm water
  • A washcloth
  • A clean, dry towel

Avoid using antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide on open wounds or abscesses.

Once you’ve washed the area, you might use supplies like these for dressing changes:

  • Sterile gloves
  • Scissors
  • Handheld mirror
  • Absorbent dressings
  • Gauze
  • Tape
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Topical antibiotic (clindamycin or dapsone)
  • Prescription ointments or medications to promote wound healing

Your supply list will depend on your diagnosis, preferences, prescriptions, and health care provider’s instructions, as well as the extent of your HS wounds. Once you find a successful strategy, you can print your list and keep it with your wound care kit.

2. Learn From Others

The underarm area is a tricky place to bandage, requiring people with HS to be creative. Members of myHSteam have shared the following wound care tips for HS lesions under the arms:

  • “I use adhesive gauze pads under my arms. They work well and are less painful to remove than medical tape.”
  • “I use thin panty liners with adhesive. I put them on my bra under the armpits or on my shirtsleeve to avoid drainage stains.”
  • “Don’t use adhesive. It tears your skin up and further irritates your sores.”
  • “I use underarm sweat pads made to attach across your chest. They are washable, and you can insert gauze or padding as needed.”
  • “I do not wear deodorant when I have HS in my armpits. I use bar soap to wash the area, pat dry, and bandage.”

Your health care provider can also suggest ideas. For example, if tape or adhesives irritate your skin, Dr. Riley recommends trying paper tape, which tends to be gentler. She also suggests experimenting with how you secure the dressing. “Hypafix is a type of tape that we often recommend,” Dr. Riley said.

What works for one person with HS might not work for everyone. Experiment with different strategies until you find a combination that works for you.

3. Talk to Your Insurance Company

The cost of over-the-counter wound care supplies adds up. Ask your insurance company if they’ll cover the costs of your dressings.

“Most insurance companies will cover wound care supplies,” Dr. Riley said. “I think this is a missed opportunity for many HS patients and dermatologists. It does take a little bit of work on the part of both the patient and the care provider, so it’s not a simple thing, but it’s worth asking your dermatologist about.”

Dr. Riley shared a general outline of the steps you might follow:

  1. Decide which products you need.
  2. Find a wound care supply company covered by your insurance.
  3. Provide the necessary documentation to get those products covered.
  4. Receive confirmation that they’ll be covered.
  5. Order and organize delivery.

Your insurance company will likely have its own process and requirements, including proof that the supplies are necessary for your medical treatment, so start by calling your health insurance provider. You can also ask your dermatologist for help.

“I always tell my patients that if they have a specific type of wound care dressing that they’re purchasing, we have the ability to help in many cases,” Dr. Riley said. “We have data to show that they are spending, in some cases, hundreds of dollars a month on wound care supplies.”

4. Wear HS-Friendly Clothing

You might already be weighing the benefits of loose-fitting versus tighter clothing, but did you know there are clothes designed specifically for people who have hidradenitis suppurativa? “HidraWear is one product my patients like,” Dr. Riley said. “It’s HS-specific clothing.”

HidraWear was founded by an individual with HS. The clothing line includes washable and reusable garments with special pockets and fasteners for disposable dressings. The crop top and T-shirt will likely be most helpful for bandaging the armpits.

Hidrawear also makes absorptive dressings that tuck inside a little pocket or sleeve in the clothing. Dr. Riley recommends asking your insurance about coverage. “Most insurances cover HidraWear clothing,” Dr. Riley said. It’s possible to pay out of pocket, but the items can be expensive, so wound care becomes more affordable when insurance covers some of the cost.

You could also experiment with your own at-home version by altering clothing you already own or purchasing inexpensive shirts and adding sleeves or pockets for dressings. If you do create something new, consider sharing your idea on myHSteam to help others.

5. Ask for Help

If you struggle to bandage HS lesions under your arms, schedule an appointment with a health care professional, like a doctor specializing in dermatology or wound care. In addition to providing medical advice, they may know about home remedies or bandaging tips used by other people with HS.

One way to ensure you get your questions answered is to take notes when challenges arise. Do your bandages fall off after a short time? Does the adhesive irritate the hair follicles in your armpit? Do you need more absorbent dressings? Bring your notes to your appointment, and share them with your doctor.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa, more than 34,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HS.

Have you had to bandage HS under the arms? What strategies have worked best for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on August 22, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Julia Mhlaba Riley, M.D. is a dermatologist affiliated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Learn more about her here.
Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here.

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