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Underarm Pitfalls

underarm infection
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The following is our second post on skin infections (see the first one on cellulitis over here). This one comes from Alex at WanderlustandtheGirl.com. Enjoy her entertaining and somewhat intense tale of what it’s like to get an infection in your armpit!

In 2010, I took my first official round-the-world trip. I went surfing down under in Australia, temple hopping in Cambodia, and animal watching on safari in Tanzania. I had the most fun gallivanting around South East Asia where I spent a leisurely five months.

During my time roaming the South East Asia circuit, I managed to escape the typical backpacker pitfalls – dengue fever, burns from motorbike exhausts, and broken bones from tubing. With only two months left in my adventure, it wasn’t long before my health took a turn for the worse.

I started getting what I thought was a pimple underneath my arm. The pimple turned into a large bump and eventually into a giant puss filled cyst. Not only was my new underarm fixture embarrassing, it became increasingly painful with size. I didn’t know what to do so I tried to self medicate by taking antibiotics from one of the many pharmacies found in Thailand. Throughout the next two weeks the cysts came and went increasing in size and discomfort each time they appeared.

My period in Asia was coming to an end and I didn’t have time (or I foolishly didn’t make the time) to go to the doctor. Before I knew it I was jumping on a plane and starting a 21 day overland tour in Africa. Throughout this time I didn’t have access to a doctor and had to endure the ongoing cyst outbreaks.

I experienced horrendous pain as the cysts became more numerous and continued to develop. I could not fold my arm without flinching in agony and got to the point where I could no longer hold back my tears. Pain killers didn’t even numb me anymore and only sleep could provide me some relief.

I had to wait until my overland tour was over and I got to South Africa to go to a proper hospital. This was over a month and a half after the growths began.

The doctor in Cape Town gave me a 9 day antibiotic treatment which finally helped calm the growths. Instead of doing as I was told by the doctor and laying off the booze while taking antibiotics, I happily celebrated my last week on the road.

Sure enough, two weeks after arriving home, the cysts returned and this time bigger and more excruciating than ever.

I was helpless without health insurance and could not afford to pay for a private doctor in Los Angeles. I had no choice but to spent 8 hours waiting in the emergency room at a “free” hospital with the empty hopes of being seen by a doctor.

As the sun started coming up in the horizon, a light bulb went off in my head. I remembered that my travel insurance covered me up to a year after initially getting an illness while traveling.

I called my travel insurance to confirm and they referred me to an urgent care facility.

After two weeks of daily treatment, antibiotics (minus the booze), Vicodin, and a painfully necessary surgical procedure, I was finally relieved of my suffering and the horrible underarm cysts.

I hope others learn to be more responsible than me when I was sick on the road. My advice: Listen to your doctor, don’t drink while taking antibiotics, and go to the hospital as soon as you think something’s wrong.

I want to thank the folks at Travel Guard for financing my hospital bills and helping me get better! You guys rock!

Originally intending to travel for three months “in between jobs”, Los Angeles native, Alex, has now been traveling for almost four years. Trading in a career in fashion for full time travel, she’s been to 34 countries on 6 continents and she’s not done yet. You can read about her latest globe trotting adventures on her blog, WanderlustandtheGirl.com. Find her on facebook here and on twitter @LAbackpackrChik.
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{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam October 16, 2011, 3:58 pm

    Ugh. I know how you feel. I got a strange staph infection when I was in the Philippines and ended up in quarantine in a hospital in Canada while they tried to figure out what it was. I still have the scars!

    • phil October 17, 2011, 8:02 pm

      Yikes. Staph infections can be really serious!!

    • LAbackpackerChick October 20, 2011, 5:24 pm

      Ooh quarantined? Staph infections are scary. Hopefully it wasn’t too painful?

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler October 17, 2011, 7:32 pm

    Sheesh.. that looks painful! They had to cut it out? So with Travel Guard, do you have to prove that you got the infection while you were overseas to be covered for the year that you get home?

    • LAbackpackerChick October 20, 2011, 5:23 pm

      Hi Christy

      Thanks for reading my gruesome story!

      No they didn’t cut it out, they had to drain it out over a period of 7 days after an initial incision and drainage. Ewww.

      I had already been treated overseas in South Africa before I got home. Travel Guard covered me for the treatment I received there and also at home.

      Let me know if you have any other questions :-)

  • mike June 10, 2016, 8:16 pm

    Hi Alex…i’m suffering from the same affliction after travelling to Palawan in Philippines…did the doctors or treatment specialists ever determine what it was/is and what caused it? Thanks…

  • mike June 16, 2016, 6:19 pm

    Doctor said it was a bacterial infection caused by my use of a backpack in the very tropical area that is the Philippines ! The skin stretches and the bacteria that forms in a sweaty environment makes it’s way into the new, fresh cracks and crevices and festers, causing boils. I was prescribed an oral antibiotic and a topical antibiotic applied twice a day, and within 5 days swelling had subsided noticeably…I think next trip just the topical to be applied at night will be in the kit. Hope this helps somebody !

  • Ridiculous April 16, 2017, 3:46 am

    Funny that you had to wait to go to South Africa to get treated when they are so many hospitals in Southeast Asia’s capital cities like Bangkok or KL. Singapore for example would have plenty of hospitals, both private and public that are as good as any in the US. You probably waited till your next trip to Africa and went to South Africa because you think it’s run by “whites”.

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