Itchy nipples are usually considered minor issues. Although itching is as annoying as it sounds, it is more so for an itchy nipple. It is a common occurrence as they are extremely sensitive, stick out of your body, and rob you of quality time in life.
While you may feel a great urge to itch, try to resist the itch, as it can further aggravate the problem. AThey are caused by various problems including dry skin, yeast infections, and several skin conditions, as well as breast cancer cases.
Top Causes of Itchy Nipples
While cancer is usually not a common cause of itchy nipples, itching is generally caused by that ill-fitting bra that you wear, or that new skincare item that you have been using, in this case, you have contact dermatitis. Another common cause of itching faced by new mothers is a yeast infection, particularly breast yeast and nipple yeast.
However, if your itching persists for more than a few weeks, consult your doctor immediately to get relief from your distress. If you have itchy nipples and are wondering what are the causes of itchy nipples, you may have any one of the following skin conditions, or in certain cases cancer like Paget’s disease.
1. Atopic Dermatitis
A common cause of itchy nipples is atopic dermatitis a type of eczema, that causes inflammatory skin conditions on your body, particularly in the folds of the knees and elbows. Eczema can affect both the nipples and breasts. Along with itchy nipples, one may also notice inflammation and peeling skin.
Other symptoms of nipple eczema include small itchy bumps that leak fluid and are sensitive, and red rashes. Although genetic, eczema can be made worse through environmental exposures. Breastfeeding women are also at a higher risk of developing eczema, more so if they had atopic dermatitis before.
Eczema can be easily treated by keeping the skin moisturized, this can be done by using thick unscented moisturizers that contain ingredients like ceramides, and hydrocortisone ointments.
2. Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Items like detergents, soaps, lotions, clothing, bras, and others have harsh chemicals, and fragrances that can cause skin irritation.
When our skin comes in contact with anything that triggers it is called allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis. It can present itself as dry, red, itchy skin along with blisters that ooze fluid, swelling, tenderness, and scaly skin.
The key to curing contact dermatitis is by identifying what is causing nipple irritation, avoiding it, and in the meantime switching to hypoallergenic soaps and detergents, moisturizing itchy patches, cleaning the area regularly, and keeping it dry.
3. Yeast Infection
For breastfeeding, the reason for it could be yeast infections or breast thrush. A fungal infection caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. Women who previously had vaginal thrush or are taking antibiotics are also at a higher risk of developing breast or nipple thrush.
Although uncommon, men can also develop nipple thrush, as the infection is usually caused when sweat is left on the skin, attracting yeast, and causing the area to itch. To avoid this, head to the shower after a sweat session and wear breathable clothes.
Symptoms included: pink nipple and areola, white rash, cracked nipples that heals slowly, nipple tenderness, burning and itching, and breast or nipple pain, especially after breastfeeding.
Infants may also develop thrush, showing symptoms such as a white coating in their mouth, tongue rash, and red diaper rash. They also require treatment at the same time as their mother.
Mastitis is an inflammatory skin condition, that especially affects lactating women and can cause breast and nipple itching, as it. It is a condition that occurs in the breast tissue when milk ducts are blocked or infected, this happens when milk ducts are not properly draining during feeding, leaving breast milk as residue. Further, bacteria from the baby’s mouth can also travel through the milk duct causing blockage.
Symptoms of mastitis include breast tenderness and warmth, pain when breastfeeding, nipple discharge, and swelling in the breast. Mastitis is easily curable with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.
5. Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes before and during your periods, cause unstable levels of estrogen and progesterone. Also menopause causes, skin thinning and makes it drier due to the lack of estrogen, further causing your nipples to be itchy.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes with the addition of increased blood flow, breast expansion, skin stretches from milk production, breast heaviness, friction from clothes, and tightening bras, can cause itchy nipples. Moreover weight gain during pregnancy is another culprit itchy nipples.
6. Radiation Therapy
Radiation treatment for breast cancer is yet another reason for itchy nipples, Itching can happen during and even years after the treatment has been done. Since Radiation treatment uses high-powered waves in the affected area, it causes sensitive skin and persistent itching.
To combat the itching, talk to your doctor who can prescribe oral antihistamines or corticosteroid creams.
7. Breast Surgery
These individuals experience breast tissue pain, soreness, tenderness, and itching as a part of the healing process. Massage the area using ice, or wear surgical bras to get some relief.
However, if you notice pus, redness, and or swelling, contact your physicians, as it can be a result of infection or improper healing.
8. Paget Disease of the breast
Another uncommon reason is Paget’s disease of the breast which is a rare type of breast cancer that mostly affects women. It rarely affects both the breast and is usually concentrated on one side causing an itchy nipple.
Paget’s disease shows up in the nipple and then the areola as red, scaly rashes that do not get better even after the use of topical creams, and treatment surgery followed by radiation.
Symptoms of Paget’s disease include a flat nipple, thick skin on the nipple or areola, tingling nipple or areola, flaky skin, and yellow or bloody discharge from the nipple. Other symptoms include breast skin thickening, burning or tingling sensation of the breast or nipple, and feeling of a lump inside the breast.
9. Inflammatory Breast Cancer
However, unlike other types of cancer, it can not be detected from a lump, but rather from intense itching, bite-like bumps, and rashes on the breast, hence named inflammatory as it inflames the entire breast.
IBC is caused when cancer cells block lymph vessels present in the skin of the breast. IBC can also make the skin red, giving it a pitted appearance that resembles an orange peel. It is recommended that if you notice any mark or rash on the nipple or the breast that may bleed and does not get better over time, should be consulted with a doctor.
10. Benign Tumor
Itchy nipples can also be caused by a non-cancerous tumor in the breast duct. A tumor can be recognized by a lump in the breast or from clear discharge from the nipples. In either case, consult a doctor, the diagnosis may include an X-ray, ultrasound, mamo gram, or biopsy, and further treatment includes surgery.
11. Jogger’s Nipple
Common to both men and women, Jogger’s nipples are caused by friction from clothes rubbing against the skin during activities like surfing, jogging, and weight lifting. People who wear harsh fabrics while working out, run without a bra and work out in winter when the nipples are hard from the cold, are at a higher risk of getting jogger’s nipples.
Symptoms include redness, soreness, skin irritation, dry nipples, and cracked nipples, with or without bleeding. Further, those who wear synthetic fabric and wool are more prone to getting Jogger’s nipples. A quick trick to avoid Jogger’s nipples is by applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly before working out under your sports bra.
12. Dry Weather
Dry weather and itchiness go hand in hand making nipples and breasts itch. During winters, a lack of humidity in the air causes your skin to dry out, making it more prone to dryness, inflammation, and irritation.
While winters are the main culprit behind your dry skin and itchy nipples, eczema can further elevate your condition even during summers. You can curb dry skin by keeping your showers short within 10 minutes, using lukewarm water instead of hot water, patting instead of fully drying your skin, using thick moisturizes like petroleum jelly or creams that have ingredients like ceramides and colloidal oatmeal, or you can use a humidifier to retain nipple moisture.
The thyroid is an important organ, that is involved in the regulation of several other organs in our body. Low levels of thyroid can cause the skin to become dry resulting in itchy skin and making your nipples itchy as well. But itching skin is not the only symptom of thyroid. Other symptoms of thyroid include fatigue, loss of appetite, aching muscles, and others.
Consult your doctor if you suspect low levels of thyroid, who can recommend a specialist for further evaluation.
14. Using Narcotics
Narcotics are present in oral pain relievers of migraines, broken bones, and surgery. However, some narcotics release histamine, resulting in generalized pruritus, itching, and hence itchy nipples.
To cure your itch, moisturize your skin, or take an oatmeal bath that soothes the skin, or you may switch to a different medication if possible.
Hyperkeratosis is a skin-thickening condition, which is generally asymptomatic. But it can cause itching, and you would notice warty and tick skin along the nipple and areola.
Most doctors believe that hyperkeratosis is caused due to hormones, as 80% of its victims are women. Hyperkeratosis generally does not require treatment since it is mild, but if you particularly experience discomfort, you can use a topical treatment like salicylic acid, or cryotherapy, where the lesion is frozen off.
16. Insect Bite
Insect bites are also another common cause of itchy nipples. If the area that is itching has a single raised bump surrounded by redness, it is an insect bite. Multiple marks on your body could mean a bed bug infestation. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, oral histamines, and calamine lotion are good protection against it.
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Nipple
If you are experiencing persistent itching that is making you undergo severe discomfort and are not getting better with over-the-counter treatments, then you should consult a doctor. Other concerning symptoms that would push you to schedule an appointment, especially if the symptoms are noticed from a single nipple, are:
- Bloody, yellow, or brown discharge from a nipple
- Inverted nipple
- Constant breast pain and sore nipples, despite the menstrual cycle
- Changes in the skin texture of the breast that resembles an orange peel
- Thickening of breast tissue
- Pain while nursing
- An itchy rash that is not responding to over-the-counter treatment
- Cracked nipples that indicate redness, soreness, and bleeding
How to Treat Itchy Nipples
There are many ways to treat itchy nipples some include home remedies, while others might require attention from a specialist.
The most common cause of itchy nipples is eczema, and it is easily cured by retaining moisture within the skin barrier. This can be done by using thick moisturizers that have ingredients like glycerin, cocoa butter, ceramides, and oats extract among others. Additionally, you should drink plenty of fluids, and wear a soft fabric shirt to avoid further irritating the skin.
Surgery is often recommended by doctors for those who have breast cancer. Surgical removal of the whole breast or part of it can get you relief from all the itching. Further chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also work for killing or shrinking cancer cells.
Using topical steroid cream or anti-itch cream is a great option to get instant relief, as these include numbing agents that reduce itching and inflammation.
Change Skin Care Product
That new lotion, soap, perfume, or body wash that you have been using could be a possible reason for your itchy nipples and breasts. In this case, you have contact dermatitis, which is treated through antihistamines, or by replacing your existing products with products that are labeled for sensitive skin.
Instead of showing in hot or cold water, opt for lukewarm water that is not too drying or irritating to the skin. Also, keep your showers short within 5-10 minutes, further pat dry to retain skin moisture.
This is particularly important for yeast infection. Airing out the area that is sweating would reduce the chances of bacteria attraction, and reduce itching. You can also take a quick shower after your sweat sessions to reduce the chance of infection.
Now, itchy nipples are common and usually do not pose any serious threat. They are generally caused by hormonal changes, allergies, and eczema which are treatable through home remedies, understanding the cause of the itching and refraining from itching too much.
However, if your itching persists for longer periods, accompanied by pain, abnormal discharge, and flaky skin, consult with a healthcare provider.