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Many factors can cause itchy nipples, most of which are not cause for concern. These include pregnancy side effects, chafing, and common skin conditions.
However, some symptoms should not be ignored. Itching nipples can be a sign that something more serious is going on.
This article discusses some of the more common causes, treatment, and prevention of itchy nipples, and when you should see a doctor.
Fast facts on itchy nipples:
- Most causes are benign (non-cancerous) in nature.
- Usually, treatment involves home remedies or prescription medication.
- Nipple itching can be a sign of a rare and serious form of cancer called Paget’s disease of the breast.
There are many causes, including the following:
Hormonal changes, breast expansion, and increased blood flow may cause a woman to experience itchy nipples during pregnancy. A woman may also experience nipple soreness, tingling, sensitivity, and breast-heaviness.
Commonly, women can treat pregnancy-related nipple itching themselves with:
- A chemical-free lotion like vitamin E, cocoa butter or lanolin: Using additional petroleum jelly throughout the day may also be helpful in keeping moisture within the skin. Apply lotion or petroleum jelly to the nipples after showering, especially in the morning and evening.
- Mild, fragrance-free detergents: Using these kinds of products prevents harsh chemicals reaching the skin.
- Suitable bras: Wearing a good-fitting maternity bra that allows for air-flow to the breasts and that is not too tight can help reduce itching.
There is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews if you want to buy cocoa butter or lanolin.
There are several causes of nipple or areola dermatitis. These include eczema and irritation or allergic dermatitis. Certain types of dermatitis can also cause eczema.
Eczema is a common condition in breast-feeding women, especially those who have previously been affected by atopic dermatitis.
Eczema is a skin condition that can affect any part of the body, including the breast.
Some types of eczema may be caused by irritation from friction as a result of running, harsh clothing, water, soaps, and certain detergents.
Some forms of eczema result from an allergic response or contact with products such as non-purified lanolin, chamomile ointment, and perfumes.
Symptoms of areola or nipple eczema may include:
- itching, burning, and pain
- lesions that weep or leak fluid
- crusting or scaling skin, or plaque formation
Treatment of nipple or areola eczema includes:
- avoiding things that cause or worsen the reaction
- avoiding scratching as this can further aggravate the condition and lead to infection
- keeping the skin hydrated with moisturizers
- using topical steroids and other prescription medications as recommended
- using antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine, as directed
Treatment with antibiotics may be necessary if an infection develops. People must ensure they take the medication as directed.
At times, women may experience a fungal infection of the breast called breast yeast or thrush, which is commonly caused by the fungus, Candida albicans. However, thrush can develop from other unknown causes. It can occur during breastfeeding, in women with vaginal thrush, and during antibiotic use. Thrush can also damage the nipple itself.
Although uncommon, men can experience breast yeast. Symptoms of nipple yeast may include:
- breast or nipple pain that is commonly described as stabbing, shooting, or a deep aching sensation
- women may experience a burning sensation, often after breast-feeding
- nipple tenderness, burning, itching, or stinging
- pink-reddened nipple and areola
- dry, flaking areola
- a white rash
- cracked nipples that are slow to heal
During breast-feeding, an infant may develop thrush, experiencing symptoms such as a white coating in their mouth, tongue rash, or a red diaper rash.
Infants who develop thrush may require treatment at the same time as their mother.
Treatment for breast or nipple thrush may include:
- using antifungal creams and oral medications
- avoiding nipple moisture by keeping the nipples dry
- changing breast pads regularly throughout the day is recommended
- using hot and soapy water to wash clothing, towels, bras, nursing pads and other garments; where possible, air dry these items outside
- sterilizing all pumping equipment and pacifiers in boiling water for 5 minutes or as directed; ideally, replace these items on a weekly basis.
Jogger’s nipple (chafing)
Also referred to as runner’s nipple, jogger’s nipple results from the irritation caused by clothing rubbing against the nipple during activities such as running, surfing, or weightlifting.
Other activities that cause chafing in men and women can also cause jogger’s nipple.
Those at the highest risk for developing jogger’s nipple include those who:
- wear cotton shirts
- run without a bra
- perform activities in the winter months when the nipple is hard due to the cold temperatures
Symptoms of jogger’s nipple include:
- skin irritation and redness
- sore and dry nipples
- nipple-cracking with or without bleeding
Treatment for jogger’s nipple and prevention methods may include:
- avoiding further nipple-chafing by stopping the activity that is causing the condition until the nipple has healed
- using antiseptic creams
- avoiding the use of loose-fitting shirts, wearing a soft bra without a seam line or a binding sports bra, wearing a compression vest or Shimmel, or wearing a soft-fabric shirt
- covering the nipples with a waterproof adhesive bandage before activity
- applying a topical barrier ointment, such as an anti-chafing balm or petroleum jelly, before activity
Paget’s disease is a type of cancer found in the skin’s outer layer, which is called the epidermis. However, other breast tumors may also be present in the affected breast. Although Paget’s disease is more common in women, it can affect men.
Those with Paget’s disease may have symptoms other than nipple itching, including:
- tingling nipple or areola, redness, flaking or crusting skin
- thick skin on the nipple or areola
- flat nipple
- yellowish bloody nipple discharge
Depending on the extent of disease present and other factors, those with Paget’s disease may require surgery to remove the nipple, areola, or full breast.
Also, lymph nodes may be removed to see if the cancer has spread. Treatment for Paget’s disease may also consist of chemotherapy or certain hormonal therapies.
It is important to remember that anyone who experiences abnormal symptoms should visit their doctor for proper evaluation and treatment. It is important to do this because if doctors discover a more serious condition, the person can receive treatment immediately.