There are several treatment options available for hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). HS treatment options fall into two main categories – medications and surgical procedures.
The right treatment option will depend on several factors, including the severity of HS symptoms and an individual’s general health and medical history. Some cases of HS prove difficult to treat.
For more information about specific hidradenitis suppurativa treatments, visit Treatments A-Z.
Types of treatments for HS
Antibiotics fight infections by killing bacteria and may also reduce inflammation. Although HS is not caused by an infection, sores may become infected in severe stages of HS. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infected lesions, heal lesions, and prevent new lesions. Antibiotics to treat HS can be applied topically or taken by mouth.1 In very severe cases, intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be used to control HS symptoms.2
Topical antibiotics work only where applied, whereas oral antibiotics work throughout the body. Topical antibiotics are usually prescribed for mild HS, while oral antibiotics are more likely to be prescribed for moderate to severe cases of hidradenitis suppurativa.1
There are several types of antibiotics your doctor might prescribe to treat HS. Side effects will vary for each medication. Common side effects of antibiotics generally include headache, dizziness, fatigue, skin sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, and diarrhea. Side effects often increase with higher dosages.
Hormonal birth control
While the exact cause of HS is unknown, many scientists believe sex hormones may play a role in triggering the condition. As a result, hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill are sometimes proscribed to women with HS to control their hormones.1 Birth control pills can reduce the amount of fluid coming from lesions and also help women who experience HS flares during their periods. Some women taking birth control pills experience mild side effects such as weight gain, bloating, and bleeding between periods, especially for the first few weeks or months of taking them.
Similarly, Aldactone (Spironolactone) may be prescribed in cases of HS where hormonal imbalance is believed to play a role in triggering symptoms. Both Aldactone and hormonal birth control are believed to work in women with HS by keeping hormone levels balanced.2,3
Corticosteroids like Prednisone and Prednisolone work to reduce inflammation and are sometimes used to treat HS. Corticosteroids (often simply called steroids) can help heal existing lesions and prevent new ones from forming. Treatment with corticosteroids is usually limited to short time periods during major flares because of side effects and the dangers of long-term use.4 Common side effects of corticosteroids include high blood sugar, fluid retention, mood swings, trouble sleeping, rounding of the face known as “moon face,” insomnia, euphoria, depression, anxiety, and mania. Side effects can become more severe at higher dosages and with longer-term use.
Biologic medications are mostly used to treat severe cases of HS. Biologic medications are genetically engineered antibodies, or proteins used by the immune system to identify and neutralize aspects of the immune system that cause inflammation. Humira (Adalimumab) is the first FDA approved biologic to treat HS. Remicade (Infliximab) and Stelara (Ustekinumab) are not FDA-approved to treat HS, but are sometimes prescribed off-label to treat cases of HS that have not responded to other treatments. Biologics are administered via injection or intravenous infusion.5 Every biologic medication has its own set of side effects, however rash or irritation at injection site is common across biologic medications.
Incision and draining
Incision and draining, also called I&D or lancing, can be used to relieve pressure and pain. During this procedure, a doctor will cut and drain fluid from a lesion. An I&D won’t prevent new lesions from developing in the same location and generally does not provide long-term benefits for people with HS.6,7,8
Mini-unroofing, also called punch debridement, is the removal of individual HS lesions. In a mini-unroofing procedure, a doctor uses a round tool often using for biopsies to “punch out” the lesion. Afterwards, the wound will be cleaned and dressed. Mini-unroofing is a minimally invasive procedure that can usually be done in a doctor’s office. Many people find that their lesions do not return after mini-unroofing. Mini-roofing generally involves scarring and does carry some risk of infection.6,8
Unroofing, also called deroofing, is a surgical procedure used in cases of advanced hidradenitis suppurativa. Unroofing is especially suited for people whose HS consistently recurs. A local anesthetic will likely be applied before an unroofing procedure. Then a physician removes skin that covers tunnels that have formed under the skin. A local unroofing procedure treats one lesion, and an extensive unroofing treats multiple lesions across an area of the body. Unroofing can be performed using a laser or more traditional surgical instruments. Laser unroofing is frequently used for more severe lesions and larger areas of tunneling. Unroofing can leave a person with significant scarring.3,6,7,8
Excision is a procedure to remove lesions and surrounding tissue. Excision is generally only recommended for people with severe HS that cannot be managed with other treatments. Excision can be performed in a traditional surgical setting or with a laser. Surgical excision requires general anesthesia and may require a hospital stay. Laser excisions can be performed using a local anesthetic. A skin graft or other advanced wound management may be needed after removing the affected skin. Those undergoing excision may be left with significant scarring.6,7,8
Laser and light therapy
Treatment with laser or light therapy is an option for people with moderate to severe HS who have not responded to other treatments. One option uses the same type of laser (called a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet or Nd:YAG laser) used to destroy the hair follicle in laser hair removal. The use of Nd:YAG laser treatments is based on the belief that HS originates in the hair follicle. Nd:YAG laser treatments are frequently administered monthly over several months.9
HS can also be treated with intense pulsed light. This method is also used to remove hair and treat acne. Intense pulsed light is believed to reduce HS symptoms by lowering inflammation, killing bacteria, and destroying hair follicles.9
Some lifestyle changes can help reduce discomfort and manage HS symptoms.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese is associated with more severe HS symptoms. A study assessing the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and HS severity found that people with a BMI in the obese range had more severe symptoms than people with an overweight BMI. Those with an overweight BMI had more severe symptoms than people with a normal BMI.10 A different study found a relationship between a 15 percent weight loss and a significant reduction in symptom severity.11
Quitting smoking is an important step for overall wellbeing. While more research is required to fully understand the impact of smoking on HS, some studies have found a relationship between smoking and more severe HS symptoms. There is some evidence that quitting may help with symptoms. A study comparing HS symptom severity between smokers and non-smokers found no difference between former smokers and people who never smoked.12
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help people with HS feel their best. A well-balanced diet can help people with HS lose weight or maintain a healthy weight which can help manage symptoms. Popular diets such as the paleo and ketogenic diets have been touted as options for achieving remission. While these diet protocols may be helpful for individual people, there isn’t definitive scientific evidence to support them. While there is no diet proven to cure HS, there is some evidence that eliminating dairy and brewer’s yeast (found in bread and beer) and reducing sugar may ease symptoms of HS.13
Some people seek to treat their HS with dietary supplements.
Always consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or adding supplements to your routine. Popular diets and supplements may not be appropriate for your health needs.
Caring for your skin
Protecting your skin from irritants can help minimize discomfort and reduce the chances of aggravating symptoms. Strategies to take care of your skin include, wearing loose-fitting clothing, avoiding shaving irritated areas, and using gentle, non-abrasive soaps in the shower.16,17
Learn more about smoking, obesity, and other risk factors for hidradenitis suppurativa.
Is there a cure for HS?
There is no cure for hidradenitis suppurativa, but early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the condition and minimize progression.18 HS treatments focus on preventing new lesions from developing, preventing the formation of tunneling under the skin, removing lesions and tunneling, and pain management.17
People’s experiences with HS vary greatly. Some people with HS experience long-term remission following treatment with prescription medications, surgery, or after making significant lifestyle changes, like losing weight. However, there is not one treatment or set of treatments that works for everyone, and recurrence rates can vary based on the location of lesions and age.19,20
Is there a natural cure for hidradenitis suppurativa?
Many people with HS seek natural remedies to reduce their symptoms. There is some evidence that certain lifestyle behaviors can help reduce symptoms. The most important lifestyle behaviors are avoiding skin irritants, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking. There is limited evidence that avoiding dairy, sugar, and brewer’s yeast can improve symptoms.
There is a small amount of research on zinc and vitamin D supplements. A few very small studies showed that these supplements may be beneficial, but the report authors concluded that more research is needed before recommending these supplements.
If you choose to try one or more alternative treatments, it is important to maintain the traditional drug regimen established by your doctor. These treatments have been proven effective in rigorous, scientific trials. It is also vital to check with your doctor before beginning a natural or complementary regimen so that they can warn you about any potential interactions and correctly interpret any side effects.
What are the side effects of hidradenitis suppurativa treatments?
Any medication can cause side effects. Each HS treatment has specific potential side effects associated with it. Not everyone who takes a particular HS medication will experience all, most, or any of the side effects it can potentially cause. Some side effects are very common, while others are very rare. Your risk for developing a particular side effect may depend on whether you have other healthy conditions, are taking certain other medications, or your age or ethnicity. Your doctor can help you assess the risks and benefits of each HS treatment in context of your family medical history and condition. Read more about side effects of specific treatments in Treatments A-Z.