Symptoms of breast eczema include a dry, itchy rash. While uncomfortable, it not usually dangerous. However, symptoms can resemble those of a rare type of breast cancer called Paget’s disease.
Eczema is the name for a group of skin conditions that affects more than 9.6 million children and about 16.5 million adults in the United States alone.
Breast eczema is when this condition occurs on or around the breasts. It can occur in isolation or as part of a more widespread condition.
Read on to learn the symptoms of breast eczema, as well as Paget’s disease of the breast, how to tell them apart, and what the treatment options are.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that usually begins in childhood, although it can start at any age. It is not contagious, and so people with eczema cannot pass it to others.
Breast eczema is where the symptoms of eczema appear on the breast or around the nipples. It usually appears in people who have eczema elsewhere, although it can appear as a stand-alone condition.
The people most likely to experience nipple eczema are teenage girls, but it can also affect infants, children, and older adults.
Symptoms vary from person to person and may also vary in severity. However, common symptoms may include:
- itchy, painful skin
- dry skin
- red patches of skin
- thickened patches of skin
- scaly skin
- scratch marks
People who experience breast eczema will develop the symptoms listed above on or around the breasts. The areas most commonly affected include the areolae (the pigmented area around the nipple), but breast eczema can also be under or in between the breasts.
Symptoms of Paget’s disease of the breast are similar to eczema and can include:
- itchy skin
- pain and sensitivity around the nipple
- thickened patches of skin
- scaly skin
- flattening of the nipple
- discharge from the nipple that may be yellow or bloody
People may also experience a tingling or a burning sensation around the nipple. These symptoms will not respond to the treatments for eczema but will instead get worse over time.
It is unclear why or how Paget’s disease of the breast develops. Like most breast cancers, it is more common in women but can also affect men. People over the age of 50 are more likely to develop it.
If a person experiences mild breast eczema, simply avoiding triggers can be enough to remedy the condition. However, some cases may require medical intervention. Medical treatment for breast eczema may include:
- topical corticosteroids
- nonsteroidal topicals
- oral steroids
- oral immunosuppressant drugs
- topical calcineurin inhibitors
If people are having difficulty with sleeping through the night due to the severity of their symptoms, doctors may prescribe antihistamines with a sedative effect to help them sleep.
Home remedies and lifestyle changes may also help manage the symptoms of breast eczema. Things that can help reduce the symptoms include:
- trying to lower stress levels
- avoiding bathing or showering in hot water than can irritate the skin, but instead opting for warm water
- avoiding cosmetics and toiletries with high alcohol or perfume content, as these can irritate the skin and cause a flare-up
- getting lots of good sleep
- keeping the skin well moisturized by using an emollient frequently
- avoiding scratching
- trying wet wrapping
- using paste bandages
There is no clear and proven way to completely prevent eczema, but there are things that people can do to reduce their risk of a flare-up. Avoiding triggers is a good way to minimize flare-ups.
Some of the known triggers for eczema include:
- Temperature: Moving from one temperature to another, such as a warm home to the cold outdoors, or in reverse, can make eczema worse. Central heating and air conditioning can both worsen eczema symptoms.
- Food and diet: Some people report that eating certain foods can make their eczema worse, although there is no clinical evidence to support this.
- Cosmetics and toiletries: Some people find that their eczema is triggered by certain cosmetic and toiletry products. People should, therefore, be careful when selecting new products and ensure that they always patch test new products before full use.
- Fabrics: Certain materials may also irritate the skin, and so people should wear loose clothing to avoid flare-ups. This can also help people manage the condition during a flare.
Healthcare professionals will attempt to rule out any other underlying conditions before diagnosing a person with breast eczema. In order to diagnose accurately, they may order a variety of tests.
These can include:
- patch tests
- mycology, which is where healthcare professionals look at a sample of skin under a microscope
- culture swabs to check for secondary issues
- skin biopsy to rule out Paget’s disease
Conditions that a healthcare professional will want to rule out may include:
- allergic contact dermatitis
- bacterial infections
- fungal infections
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- psoriasis or other inflammatory skin diseases
- skin cancer
There is currently no cure for eczema, but there are ways to manage eczema symptoms. If people can identify and try to avoid triggers, they may be able to minimize the severity of their breast eczema and also reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
Home remedies and medical treatment can help a person manage their symptoms, but some people may require regular treatment to do this.
Even if a person’s eczema seems to disappear, it can come back at any time. According to the National Eczema Society, people who experience eczema at an early age may still have sensitive skin throughout their life regardless of if the eczema returns.
Although eczema is not a life threatening condition, it can affect a person’s quality of life. People should contact a doctor or another healthcare professional if home remedies do not improve their symptoms or if their symptoms get worse.
Additionally, a number of other issues can also cause breast eczema. Therefore, people should speak with a healthcare professional to rule out any other underlying cause.
Eczema is a common skin condition that can occur almost anywhere on the body. When it occurs on the breasts or the area around the breasts, it may be a cause for concern.
Breast eczema can often look like other conditions, so it should be checked out by a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to rule out any other underlying problems.
There is no cure for eczema, but there are many strategies a person can use to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.