If you’ve ever experienced a nipple itch, it’s completely natural to have a million thoughts in your head, including the scary “what if” question. While sore and itchy nipples are undoubtedly annoying and have the potential to drive you up the wall, it doesn’t always mean that you’re suffering from some sinister disease. Both men and women can experience itchy nipples and can even have varying levels of discomfort.
Symptoms Of Itchy Nipples
Whether you can feel an itching sensation in one nipple or both, the intensity of the feelings of discomfort can vary greatly, thereby affecting your everyday functioning and the overall quality of your life. While some of you may find it difficult to sleep normally with an extreme itch to contend with, others may just end up with an occasional sense of discomfort.
Even the duration of the itch can vary from one person to another. Some of you may have persistent feelings of scratching while others may get rid of the problem in a relatively short period of time. As you begin to scratch your delicate skin, it can get damaged and may become red, swollen, cracked, or even get thickened.
Causes Of Itchy Nipples
From a simple skin irritation to it being an early sign of a more serious condition, there are plenty of causes of itchy nipples and breasts. Here’s a detailed list of the main causes and the ways to treat each cause effectively.
Atopic dermatitis is one of the more common causes of an itchy breast or nipple. Commonly known as eczema, this condition involves skin inflammation and is usually found to occur in breastfeeding women. You could also have allergic dermatitis, which means your skin forms an allergic response to contact with products like non-purified lanolin, chamomile ointment, and perfumes.
You may have eczema because of irritation from friction when you run or the use of harsh clothing, water, soaps, and even certain detergents. Following are the symptoms of areola or nipple dermatitis.1
- Itching, burning, and pain
- Lesions that weep or leak fluid
- Crusting and scaling skin or plaque formation
How To Treat
To treat nipple or areola eczema, avoid all those things that cause or worsen the reaction. Stop yourself from scratching as you’ll only end up aggravating your condition, leading to an infection. Remember to keep your skin hydrated at all times with a good moisturizer.
You can also use topical steroids and other prescription medicines as recommended by your medical professional. Additionally, you can use antihistamines like hydroxyzine to counter the threat. Antibiotics may be of great help if you ever develop an infection.
Women may have a fungal infection of the breast called breast yeast or thrush. Usually caused by the fungus Candida albicans, thrush can develop or occur during breastfeeding, antibiotic use, or if you have vaginal thrush. Thrush can end up damaging your nipple too. Men can also experience breast yeast. However, this occurrence is pretty rare. The following are some of the symptoms of nipple yeast.2
- A stabbing, shooting pain or a deep aching sensation in your breast or nipples
- Burning sensation, often after breastfeeding
- Nipple tenderness, burning, itching, or stinging
- Pink or red nipple and areola
- Dry, flaky areola
- A white rash
- Cracked nipples that are slow to heal
If your infant develops thrush while feeding on your breast, symptoms can include a white coating in their mouth, tongue rash, or a red diaper rash. Your little one may also need treatment at the same time as you.
How To Treat It
You can use antifungal creams and oral medications. Keep your nipples dry and change your breast pads regularly through the day. Remember to use hot and soapy water to wash clothing, towels, bras, nursing pads, and other garments. If possible, look to dry these washed items on the outside. Sterilize all pumping equipment and pacifiers in boiling water for a few minutes or as directed by your doctor.
When you’re pregnant, you experience hormonal changes, breast expansion, and increased blood flow. This may cause you to have itchy nipples. Some of the common symptoms include these:
- Nipple soreness
- Tingling sensation in the nipple
- Sensitivity in the nipple region
- Heavy breasts
How To Treat It
You can treat pregnancy-induced nipple itch on your own using a chemical-free lotion like vitamin E, cocoa butter, or lanolin. You can also use petroleum jelly throughout the day to moisturize your skin. For best results, remember to apply any chemical-free lotion or petroleum jelly to your nipples every morning, evening, and once you’re done showering.
Choose to use mild and fragrance-free detergents as it prevents the possibility of harsh chemicals reaching your skin. Most importantly, wear a good-fitting maternity bra that isn’t too light and allows proper air flow to your breasts. This can definitely help reduce your itching sensation.3
4. Paget’s Disease
While the benign causes are usually the culprits, your nipple itch might also be pointing to something serious. Paget’s disease is a type of cancer found in the epidermis, your skin’s outer layer. While this disease is more common in women, it can affect men too. The following are the main symptoms of Paget’s disease:4
- Nipple itching
- Flat nipple
- Tingling nipple or areola
- Redness, flaking, or crusting skin
- Thick skin on the nipple or areola
- Yellowish bloody nipple discharge
How To Treat It
Depending on the severity of the disease, surgery is an option to get the affected nipple, areola, or full breast removed. Your lymph nodes can also be removed to check the spread of cancer. You may even have to undergo chemotherapy or certain hormonal therapies for relief.
5. Jogger’s Nipple (Chafing)
Jogger’s nipple commonly referred to as runner’s nipple, is the irritation resulting from an intense physical activity. It affects both men and women and occurs when clothing rubs against the nipple while running, surfing, or weight training. It usually affects people who wear cotton shirts, do not wear a bra while running, and perform activities in cold temperatures. The symptoms of jogger’s nipple are as follows:5
- Skin irritation and redness
- Sore and dry nipples
- Nipple cracking with or without bleeding
How To Treat
Jogger’s nipple can be easily treated with simple methods. Avoiding any physical activity for a while until the nipple chafing has completely healed is an option. Antiseptic creams can also be used. Try to avoid wearing loose-fitting clothes, a soft bra without the seam line, a binding sports bra, or a compression vest. You can also apply topical barrier ointments such as petroleum jelly.6
|↑1||Barankin, Benjamin, and M. Shirley Gross. “Nipple and areolar eczema in the breastfeeding woman.” Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery: Incorporating Medical and Surgical Dermatology 8, no. 2 (2004): 126-130.|
|↑2||Breast & nipple thrush. The Women’s. The Royal Women’s Hospital|
|↑3||Can itching be a sign of breast cancer? Cancer Research UK.|
|↑4||Paget’s disease of the nipple. NHS.|
|↑5||Kent, Michael. Oxford dictionary of sports science and medicine. Vol. 10. Oxford university press, 2006.|
|↑6||Conklin, Robert J. “Common cutaneous disorders in athletes.” Sports medicine 9, no. 2 (1990): 100-119.|