Blocked hair follicles, also known as hidradenitis suppurativa or acne inversa, refers to a chronic inflammatory skin condition. The follicles, i.e., the shafts through which hair grows out of the skin get blocked causing breakouts, or pimples or boils. These blocks are present where the skin rubs together, like the armpits or groin.
Over time, the infection can worsen and spread to other areas of the skin. The boils can turn hard or into lumps of pus. Although there is currently no cure for the condition, preventive measures, home remedies, and medical treatments can reduce the occurrence of blocked hair follicles.
What Are the Symptoms of Blocked Hair Follicles?
Symptoms of blocked hair follicles differ in various cases. Pimple-like bumps or deep cysts can form in the affected area. Before noticing a lump, you will feel a sensation in the skin area where the lump will appear. People may also experience skin burns, itches, or excessive sweating.
If the condition is left untreated for a long duration, the symptoms can worsen and develop into the following condition:
- Blackheads. Pairs of tiny black bumps resembling blackheads appear in the advanced stages of this condition.
- Growing Lumps. Blocked hair follicles symptoms begin with a lump that gradually becomes painful. Lumps can either form in one spot or multiple areas of the body and persist for weeks or months.
- Abscesses. As the lumps grow and fuse, they get filled up with fluid that becomes painful abscesses.
- Odor. When an abscess breaks open, it will secrete blood and pus. These fluids can collect in clothes and cause a foul odor.
- Scars. Usually, abscesses do not heal easily, but if they do, the process is slow, and they will mostly return. The condition’s recurrence causes ‘tunnels’ to form underneath the skin and leads to permanent scars.
What Are the Causes of Blocked Hair Follicles?
The cause of this condition is still a bit of a mystery. Medical researchers are conducting several studies to understand the reason for the clogging of hair follicles.
Although the cause is unknown, a few factors can increase your risk of developing blocked hair follicles:
- Gender. Women suffer from blocked hair follicles more often than men. The condition usually hits after puberty due to hormones. Breakouts can flare for women when they have their periods and be less severe during pregnancy and after the onset of menopause. In women, the condition mostly presents in the genital area, upper thighs, or under the breasts. For men, it has a higher occurrence on the genitals and around the anus.
- Age. Blocked hair follicles mostly occur in women aged between 18 and 29. If a person develops the condition at a young age, the condition gets severe.
- Genetics. A family history of blocked hair follicles can increase your risk. If one of your birth parents has suffered from blocked hair follicles, there are possibilities of inheriting the genes that cause this condition. But, not everyone who develops this condition has a relative with blocked hair follicles.
Other factors that can trigger blocked hair follicles include obesity, smoking, heat, hormonal changes, and sweating.
What Are the Treatment Options for Blocked Hair Follicles?
Once you start to notice the signs and symptoms discussed above, visit a doctor to discuss treatment options; so your conditions do not get severe. Treatment recommendations can vary from lifestyle changes to medications or even surgery, depending on the individual’s case.
It is important to maintain hygiene to prevent the condition from spreading. Following a self-care routine will help reduce pain, prevent outbreaks, and speed up recovery.
- Skincare. Practice an everyday skincare routine including products like antibacterial soaps or antiseptic washes to kill the bacteria causing blocked hair follicles. Avoid washcloths or loofahs to scrub the skin as it can irritate the affected area. After cleansing, apply an over-the-counter cream on the infected area or sprinkle antifungal powder.
- Pain management. Place warm compresses or tea bags for 10 minutes on the affected area to curb swelling. Avoid squeezing the breakouts, as this can damage the skin. Frequently change the wound dressing to prevent infections.
- Prevent friction. Body-hugging apparel can cause skin irritation. Wear loose-fitting and lightweight clothing to prevent rubbing or to chafe against the skin.
- Watch your weight. Follow a healthy diet and practice physical activity daily to prevent obesity and blocked hair follicles. Avoid food products with a high glycemic index, such as dairy and red meat, as they can worsen the condition.
- Quit smoking. Consumption of tobacco should be avoided, as these products can exacerbate the symptoms of blocked hair follicles.
A dermatologist will examine the infected area and prescribe medications to reduce the condition’s severity; this will help prevent the condition.
- Topical Creams. The doctor may prescribe topical medications to treat mild symptoms of blocked hair follicles. These medications help reduce inflammation, heal bacterial infections, and stop new breakouts.
- Systemic Medicines: In cases of severe blocked hair follicle symptoms, the doctor might prescribe systemic drugs, in which case the medication will be administered to the entire body.
- Pain relievers. The doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers to help relieve discomfort caused by skin breakouts.
- Retinoids. These medications, when used to treat blocked hair follicle symptoms, may take 6 to 12 months to clear up the skin. The drugs can cause side effects like dry skin and are not safe to be used during pregnancy.
- Steroids. In some cases, the doctor may recommend steroid shots or pills to reduce swelling and prevent new breakouts. Steroids can cause side effects, such as increased weight, upset stomach, and mood swings.
A dermatologist might recommend you undergo surgery if the condition has penetrated under the skin and cannot be healed using medications.
- Surgical Drainage. The procedure involves cutting the lumps and draining them to provide pain relief. The surgery provides only temporary relief as the sores can reoccur.
- Surgical Removal. The procedure involves surgically removing the lumps and the affected skin around them. The operated area is sealed with skin grafts. After the surgery, the lumps will not reoccur in the same spot, but sores can occur in other places.
- Laser Therapy. It is one of the most effective surgical treatments for blocked hair follicles. Beams of light or cold gases are used to destroy the infected hair follicles and remove the lumps.
- Deroofing. This is a treatment to clear painful nodules by removing the upper layer of tissues to expose the tunnels formed under the skin between nodules.
- Electrosurgery. This procedure combines skin-tissue-sparing removal of damaged tissue with electrosurgical peeling to treat severe complications of blocked hair follicles.
According to studies, radiation treatment can help ease symptoms of blocked hair follicles. The doctor might recommend radiation in very rare cases as it can cause long-term side effects.
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Early treatment can help control and prevent blocked hair follicles’ complications. However, the condition can adversely affect a person’s daily routine and activities. The constant pain and discomfort may impact a person’s mental balance, resulting in feelings of anxiety, self-consciousness, and depression.
If you feel low about the condition, reach out to family and friends for help to mentally cope with the condition. You can also consult a psychological counselor or get in contact with a support group to overcome challenges.
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