A syringoma is a benign, or non-cancerous, growth caused by overactive sweat glands.
Syringomas usually develop on the neck, upper cheeks, and the lower region of the eyes, but occasionally they grow on the abdomen, armpit, scalp, bellybutton, and genitals.
In most cases, syringomas are harmless and do not cause symptoms. Rarely, however, some individuals with syringomas experience extreme pain and itchiness, especially when sweating.
Fast facts on syringomas:
- Syringomas mostly develop in early adulthood, between the ages of 25 and 30.
- Syringomas are linked to several different medical conditions, including diabetes.
- Though rare, some people have a genetic predisposition towards developing them.
- Once syringomas have been diagnosed, there is usually no reason to treat them.
Syringomas are small papules, or firm bumps, that are about 1 to 3 millimeters wide. The papules usually grow in small groups and are typically:
- pale pink
Syringoma clusters tend to be symmetrical, meaning the same pattern appears on both sides of the body in the same place.
Syringomas are often mistaken for other skin conditions. Conditions with symptoms similar to syringomas include:
- lichen planus
- sebaceous hyperplasia
- acne vulgaris
- flat warts
- basal cell skin cancer
Usually, syringomas develop over time, but some people, especially younger individuals, may experience sudden, or eruptive syringomas. Eruptive syringomas often cause intense itchiness as well as redness and pain.
Who gets syringomas?
People between the ages of 25 and 40, especially Caucasian women and those of Japanese heritage, are at the greatest risk of developing the condition.
Some health conditions associated with developing syringomas include:
- diabetes mellitus
- Down syndrome
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Marfan syndrome
How do syringomas relate to the sweat glands?
Syringomas develop when sweat duct cells in the outermost layer of skin overgrow or sweat glands overreact, forming tumors or abnormal tissue growths.
The sweat ducts are tubular structures that carry perspiration from the sweat gland to the skin’s surface for release and cooling.
The only way to effectively treat the growths involves surgery, so they are usually only medically treated when they cause bothersome symptoms.
Syringomas can cause emotional distress, especially when extensive or disfiguring. Some syringomas also develop very close to delicate tissues, such as those of the eyes or genitals. Syringomas in these sensitive areas increase the risk of irritation and injury and warrant removal.
If medical treatment is necessary, there are several different types of surgery used to treat syringomas.
It is important to note that although many surgeries can reduce the appearance of syringomas, no single treatment method has been proven completely effective in removing them permanently.
Also, all surgeries carry inherent risks, such as infection and scarring.
Types of syringoma surgery include:
Visible and invisible red light waves are concentrated and sent through a laser aimed at the syringoma, destroying its tissues.
Laser therapy is usually the preferred treatment option for syringomas because it significantly reduces the risk of scarring and infection. And in many cases, it only takes a single laser procedure to remove the growth entirely.
During electrosurgery, electrical currents are concentrated and sent through the syringoma. These currents destroy abnormal tissues and damage blood vessels.
In general, surgeons prefer electrosurgeries and laser surgeries to other procedures because they do not leave a noticeable scar. As with laser surgery, it typically only takes a single session of electrosurgery to remove the syringoma completely.
During cryotherapy, surgeons use chemicals such as liquid nitrogen to freeze off the syringoma.
In dermabrasion, doctors use a diamond-encrusted wheel or fine metal wire to physically remove and even out the top layers of the skin. This procedure is often unsuitable for syringomas that are rooted deep in a person’s skin.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, a 50 percent improvement in the targeted skin condition is considered a successful dermabrasion surgery.
Certain chemicals, most commonly trichloroacetic acid, can be applied directly to the syringoma, usually causing it to dry up and fall off. When done by a trained nurse or doctor chemical peels often do not cause scarring.
In some cases, syringomas need to be surgically removed using traditional cutting, scraping, and peeling instruments. Surgery is often the last resort option, given excision almost inevitably leads to scarring and tissue damage.
Excision may be the only option for papules that are embedded deep within a person’s skin. Surgeons will use sutures or stitches to close the resulting open wound.
Some topical and oral medications may help destroy and remove syringomas, while also encouraging and supporting tissue regeneration.
Medications are often the first line of treatment for benign skin growths, given the low risk of complications, such as scarring, tissue damage, and infection.
Medications used to treat syringomas include:
- topical or oral retinoids
- topical atropine
Washes and creams that contain low concentrations (under 10 percent) of chemicals that exfoliate or gently remove the top layers of the skin may also help reduce the appearance of syringomas.
Chemicals to look for and factors to consider when buying a safe, effective exfoliator include:
- glycolic acid
- pyruvic acid
- mandelic acid
- lactic acid
- salicylic acid
- for products with exfoliators in them make sure the exfoliators are smooth, preferably round, and all the same size and shape
- use homemade exfoliating mixtures, such as white sugar mixed with olive or coconut oil
- avoid products with microbeads
- avoid products that contain known irritants associated with skin drying and damaging, such as toluene, parabens, sulfates, and methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
Typically it takes months to years of continual use for these products to work. Exfoliating too often or using products that contain uneven or sharp exfoliators, can cause dryness, tissue damage, and even scarring.
The only real way to prevent syringomas is to exfoliate regularly, use astringents, and undergo therapies that aim to reduce or limit sweat gland activity. Avoiding or protecting the skin from environmental and chemical stressors such as UV rays may also help reduce the risk of papule growth.
Factors that may reduce the risk of syringomas include:
- wearing sunscreen
- avoiding skin irritants and allergens
- making sure blood sugar levels are in a healthy range because syringomas are considered a complication of diabetes
- eating a healthy, balanced diet high in skin nutrients such as vitamin A and E
- using at-home exfoliating remedies or over-the-counter products once a week, bi-weekly, or as needed
- using natural astringents and skin tonics, such as lemon juice and apple cider vinegar
Botulinum toxin A injections, better known as Botox, are used to reduce hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating and may aid in the prevention and treatment of syringomas.
A 2016 study found that giving Botox injections alongside C02 laser therapy significantly improved the outcome for syringomas.
Aside from cosmetic appearance, there are typically no adverse side effects or complications associated with syringomas.
Anyone who develops a new skin growth or notices any changes in size, shape, or texture to an existing growth, should talk to a doctor.