What is nipple itching?
An itchy breast or nipple can seem like an embarrassing problem, but it happens to many people in their lifetime. There are several causes of an itchy breast or nipple, from skin irritation to rarer and more alarming causes, such as breast cancer.
How common is nipple itching?
Nipple itching is common. At some point in their lives, most men and women will experience itchy nipples. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of nipple itching?
The common symptoms of nipple itching are:
An itchy breast or nipple causes the urge to scratch at your skin. The discomfort can range from mild to severe, and may be an occasional or constant urge. Scratching can cause the delicate skin to become red, swollen, cracked, or thickened. While scratching may temporarily relieve the urge, it can also damage the skin.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If your itchy breast or nipple doesn’t go away after a few days, or if it seems to worsen, make an appointment to see your doctor.
You should see your doctor right away if you experience:
- Bloody, yellow, or brown drainage
- Inverted nipple
- Painful breasts
- Skin changes that make your breast resemble an orange peel
- Thickened breast tissue
If you’re breast-feeding and you experience extreme pain or other mastitis symptoms, seek medical help.
What causes nipple itching?
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.
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
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
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
What increases my risk for nipple itching?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is nipple itching diagnosed?
Please contact your doctor for best diagnosis.
How is nipple itching treated?
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.
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.
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.
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
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage nipple itching?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with nipple itching:
Proper and careful skin care can prevent itchy breast or nipple due to atopic dermatitis. Other causes of itchiness, including cancers, often cannot be prevented.
Mastitis prevention includes allowing your breasts to fully drain of milk while breast-feeding. Other preventive steps include:
- Alternating the breast you first offer during feedings
- Alternating the position you use to breast-feed your baby
- Ensuring your baby empties one breast before using the other for breast-feeding
- Seeking the advice of a lactation consultant to achieve a better latch
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
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