There are many possible causes of sensitive nipples, most of which are benign, such as friction and chafing. However, in rare cases, this symptom may be due to a condition that requires treatment, like breast cancer.

People who have sensitive nipples may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • sore nipples
  • burning or stinging pain
  • skin discoloration on the nipple
  • dry or chapped skin on the nipple
  • soreness of the breast

In this article, we discuss some causes of sensitive nipples.

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Runner’s nipple, or jogger’s nipple, can cause the nipples to become sensitive.

Runner’s nipple occurs due to friction and chafing — for example, if the nipples rub against ill-fitting clothing, particularly when running or doing other sporting activities.

Nipple sensitivity that occurs due to friction may lead to other symptoms, such as:

  • sore nipples
  • stinging pain
  • dry or chapped skin

Treatment

Applying topical ointments or moisturizers may help soothe the skin and reduce the symptoms.

People who know that they are sensitive to friction can also try several methods to prevent their nipples from hurting during exercise.

These include:

  • wearing smooth fabrics
  • wearing suitable clothing that fits correctly
  • wearing a properly fitted sports bra
  • applying anti-chafing balm
  • putting waterproof tape or bandages over the nipples

An allergic reaction can cause the nipples to become sore or sensitive. Many household products can cause an allergic reaction or irritate a person’s nipples. These products include:

  • laundry detergent
  • soap
  • body lotions and creams
  • perfume and aftershave
  • certain fabrics

Other symptoms that can occur if a person is experiencing an allergic reaction include:

  • flaky skin
  • blisters
  • a burning sensation
  • itchiness
  • a rash

Treatment

A person can try using an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory cream. If the symptoms do not improve, they should contact a doctor.

A person should also stop using any products that caused the allergic reaction or irritated the nipples.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the changes in hormone levels that occur throughout the menstrual cycle can cause breast pain. Healthcare professionals refer to this as cyclic breast pain.

These hormonal fluctuations may also cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the symptoms of which include tender, sensitive breasts.

According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), more than 90% of females say that they have experienced some symptoms of PMS.

Hormonal birth control and hormone therapy for menopause are other causes of hormone changes that can lead to breast pain and nipple sensitivity.

Symptoms of PMS and other menstrual hormone changes include:

  • swollen or tender breasts
  • sensitive nipples
  • headaches and less tolerance for noise and light
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • feeling bloated
  • irritability and mood swings
  • less interest in sex
  • fatigue
  • problems sleeping
  • feelings of sadness and crying spells

Treatment

The treatment for sensitive nipples due to hormonal changes will depend on the cause. However, some treatment options may include OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, and hormonal treatment, such as hormonal birth control and hormone replacement therapy.

A person can try the following to help relieve PMS symptoms:

  • doing regular exercise
  • maintaining a healthful diet
  • trying to sleep for 8 hours a night
  • quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke

The OWH state that the breasts will increase in size and fullness during pregnancy.

Toward the end of the pregnancy, hormone changes cause the breasts to get even larger in preparation for breastfeeding. The nipples may darken and ache during this period, and they might become more sensitive.

Other symptoms that may occur alongside nipple sensitivity include:

  • the breasts may feel full, heavy, or tender
  • small bumps may appear on the nipples
  • closer to delivery, colostrum may leak from the breasts

Treatment

According to the OWH, wearing a maternity bra that offers plenty of support can help prevent pain in the breast and nipples during pregnancy. People can also place pads in the bra to absorb any leakage.

According to La Leche League International, breastfeeding is a common cause of sensitive nipples. In many cases, this is due to the baby’s latching position.

If a baby latches poorly, the nipple may rub against their gum and hard palate, which can result in the nipple becoming sensitive and sore.

Learn more about the best positions for breastfeeding here.

Treatment

Sensitive nipples and nipple soreness that occur due to breastfeeding often go away once the person breastfeeding has found a good position, and the infant has latched onto the nipple comfortably.

A person can try one of the following methods to avoid or minimize sensitivity in the nipples during breastfeeding:

  • varying breastfeeding positions to find the most comfortable latch
  • breastfeeding on the least sore side until the nipple sensitivity reduces
  • rubbing some expressed milk or colostrum on the sensitive nipples after breastfeeding

Sensitive or sore nipples may be a sign of an infection, such as periductal mastitis. An infected nipple can be sore, and if the issue persists, the person should visit a doctor.

Yeast infections can also cause nipple sensitivity and pain. In people with these fungal infections, the nipples may also appear flaky.

The main symptoms of an infected nipple are:

  • inflammation
  • sensitivity
  • abscesses
  • discharge from the nipple
  • flaky skin

If the cause is a yeast infection, a person may experience:

  • itching or burning
  • cracked nipples
  • shooting pains in the breast
  • intense nipple pain

Treatment

Antibiotics can help treat an infected nipple.

If the cause is a yeast infection, a person may need to use topical antifungal medications.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer among females.

Breast cancer cells usually form a painless tumor, which typically feels like a hard lump with irregular edges. However, the lump can also be soft and round in some cases. Although it is uncommon, some people may find the tumor tender to the touch or even painful.

Most breast lumps are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous. However, it is important to see a doctor if any new lumps appear.

Although breast pain and nipple sensitivity are not usually symptoms of breast cancer, in some circumstances, they can be related.

Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a lump or mass within the breast
  • a swollen breast
  • skin dimpling
  • dry, flushed, flaking, or thickened nipple or breast skin
  • nipple discharge

It is also possible for the cancer to spread to the lymph nodes beneath the arm or near the collarbone. A lump or mass in these areas can often appear before the lump in the breast is large enough to be noticeable.

Treatment

Breast cancer treatments vary depending on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the age and general health of the individual.

The main treatments for breast cancer are:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • immunotherapy

Paget’s disease is a rare type of breast cancer that involves the skin of the nipple and the areola. The ACS note that it usually affects only one breast.

A person with Paget’s disease will often also have tumors within the same breast. A healthcare professional can perform a biopsy to diagnose Paget’s disease. This procedure involves removing some of the breast tissue and sending it to a laboratory for examination.

Signs and symptoms of Paget’s disease include:

  • crusty, scaly, or discolored skin on the nipple and areola
  • blood or yellow fluid coming out of the nipple
  • flat or inverted nipple
  • sensitive nipple
  • burning and itching feeling

Treatment

A surgeon may remove only the cancerous cells from the breast during breast-conserving surgery. However, a person may sometimes require a mastectomy, which is the removal of the entire breast.

After the surgery, a person with Paget’s disease will receive radiation therapy.

There are many common causes of nipple sensitivity. Most of these causes are relatively benign, and a person can treat them quickly and easily.

However, a person should visit a doctor if the issue persists or occurs alongside symptoms of more serious health conditions.