Clogged Sweat Gland

If a sweat gland becomes clogged, it is unable to work properly. When a clogged sweat gland is blocked by bacteria, infection can develop and the patient may suffer from painful cyst, abscesses or boils.

What is a clogged sweat gland?

When the body becomes hot, it releases sweat in order to cool down. By doing so, the body’s temperature reduces and serious illness can be avoided. In addition to this, the body may release sweat in times of stress.

Eccrine sweat glands occur on most of the body, whilst apocrine sweat glands are mainly situated in particular areas, such as the armpits, scalp and groin. When active, eccrine glands release sweat directly onto the surface of the skin but apocrine glands release sweat at the base of a hair follicle.

If either the ducts releasing the sweat or the hair follicle become blocked, the sweat gland becomes clogged. When this happens, the gland is prevented from functioning properly and is unable to release sweat on to the skin.

What are the symptoms of a clogged sweat gland?

When sweat glands are inhibited, they are unable to release sweat in the normal way. As a result, people may suffer a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Heat rash or small, red bumps on their skin
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Cysts, abscesses or boils
  • Itching

Whilst a single clogged sweat gland may have a limited effect on the body’s overall temperature, numerous clogged glands can have a significant impact on the body’s core temperature. If the body is unable to cool down by releasing sweat, the individual may feel increasingly hot. In turn, this could lead to dizziness, lightheadedness and even fainting.

In addition to this, individuals may develop prickly heat or heat rash when their sweat glands are clogged. Also known as miliaria, the condition causes the skin to become itchy and uncomfortable. Typically, patients will notice numerous red bumps on their skin and may suffer from persistent itching until the rash has faded.

When a sweat gland is blocked, it is easy for bacteria to take hold. When this happens, a pimple, boil or cyst may occur on or around the hair follicle. Whilst some cysts will remedy themselves over time, they can be extremely painful. As well as feeling pain, the individual may notice itching under the skin and heat in the surrounding area. If necessary, a physician may drain the cyst or remove it using a local anesthetic.

In some cases, clogged sweat glands can have further complications. Hidradenitis occurs when the cyst caused by a clogged sweat gland affects nearby hair follicles. When the cyst bursts, pus can spread to nearby hair follicles, blocking them and clogging additional sweat glands. Over time, sinus tracts develop between the cysts, leading to the spread of bacteria and additional infections.

Can a clogged sweat gland be treated?

Clogged sweat glands are not uncommon and do not always require treatment. Often, home remedies and self-care can be used to treat clogged sweat glands. The most common forms of treatment for this type of complaint include:

  • Removing irritants from the affected area
  • Using topical solutions
  • Taking antibiotics

If an individual notices they have a heat rash, removing irritants can help to calm the skin. Avoiding tight clothing, for example, can help to reduce friction on the skin and may relieve the discomfort associated with heat rash and clogged sweat glands.

Similarly, topical creams and lotions can be used to minimize the pain and discomfort caused by clogged sweat glands. These have anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent the rash from worsening whilst the sweat glands recover.

In most cases, clogged sweat glands will resolve on their own and will not need medical attention. Once present, however, the skin will need time to recover. If an individual has clogged sweat glands, they should avoid wearing tight clothing and activities which will cause them to sweat. This ensures that the clogged sweat glands are not made worse and that they have time to fully heal.

If a clogged sweat gland does not heal on its own and a cyst is present, further treatment may be necessary. Whilst a hot compress may draw the cyst out, antibiotics are sometimes required. These will kill the bacteria and prevent it from spreading further, thus eradicating the cyst and its associated symptoms.

How to prevent a clogged sweat gland

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent sweat glands from becoming clogged. These can include:

  • Avoiding shaving the affected areas
  • Giving up smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wearing looser clothing
  • Exfoliating
  • Using antibacterial soap

When people shave, the skin can become irritated and the hair may become ingrown. This can result in blocked hair follicles, which prevents sweat being deposited on the skin by apocrine sweat glands. In turn, this can result in clogged sweat glands. If individuals avoid shaving or opt for an alternative form of hair removal, they may reduce their risk of developing clogged sweat glands.

Smoking and obesity have been linked to clogged sweat glands and people who smoke and/or are overweight are more likely to develop complications, such as hidradenitis. By giving up smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, people can reduce their risk of suffering from clogged sweat glands and may prevent the condition from occurring at all.

In addition to this, wearing alternative types of clothing could help to reduce the risk of clogged sweat glands. Although many people choose to wear tightfitting leggings or sweatpants when working out, these types of garments could increase the risk of sweat glands clogging. As tight clothes create friction, they can lead to increased irritation and clogged glands. By opting for looser or baggier clothes, people can limit the amount of irritation to the skin and, therefore, prevent clogged sweat glands from occurring.

An appropriate skincare routine can also help to reduce the chances of sweat glands becoming clogged. Dry skin is a significant cause of blocked hair follicles, which can lead to clogged sweat glands. If individuals exfoliate and remove dead skin from the skin’s surface, it should reduce the likelihood of the hair follicles becoming blocked and, therefore, prevent sweat glands from becoming clogged.

Furthermore, using an antiseptic or antibacterial soap can help to prevent clogged sweat glands. If hair follicles become blocked, bacteria can take hold. This may block the sweat gland further and cause cysts to appear. By killing the bacteria with an antiseptic soap, individuals can ensure that bacteria is unable to block the sweat gland, thus reducing the chances of it becoming clogged, inflamed or infected.