Itchy nipples might be considered an embarrassing health problem, but it happens to many people. It can cause great discomfort that can range from mild to severe, which leads to you scratching on them constantly. Scratching can cause the delicate skin around the breast to become red, swollen, cracked, or thickened. It may provide temporary relief from the itching but scratching can damage the skin.
There are many possible reasons behind your itchy nipples and most of them are harmless. Though it would not hurt to know the exact cause of the itching sensation on your breast, so you can know how to treat them. In fact, it might be more harmful if you do not try to find out what is going on.
Here are some reasons that might be behind the itching feeling you are experiencing, and how you can treat them:
Reasons for Itchy Nipples
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a genetic skin disorder that makes the skin more susceptible to bacteria, irritants, and allergens. It is categorized as small raised bumps or reddish patches on the skin. Avoiding harsh soaps and moisturizing the skin with petroleum jelly can treat the condition. You can also consult a dermatologist for a prescriptive ointment.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition, speeding up the life cycle of skin cells. The extra skin cells form red, scaly patches that are itchy and sometimes painful. Of course, consulting a dermatologist is the best option for treatment, but you can use hydrocortisone ointment in the meantime.
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
If you are pregnant, you can expect some itching in your breasts because of the physiological changes that happen to the body. During this period, the breasts become enlarged as preparation for lactation. It stretches the skin, which makes it dry and irritated and causes the breast to itch. Intensive breastfeeding can also cause itch-inducing dryness to the skin.
Keeping your skin moisturized with topical lotion can ease the irritation. Your ob-gyn can also recommend more baby-safe remedies such as medical-grade lanolin or warm compresses.
- Allergy to Medication
What you are intaking in your body can be the cause of your itchy nipples. While it eases your pain, some pain relievers or medication are revealed to cause itching of the skin. Switch to a different medication that can help to reduce irritation. Upon consultation with your doctor, you can also take an antihistamine. In the meantime, an oatmeal bath and moisturizing the skin can ease the itchiness.
- Friction Against the Bra
You will be more prone to itchy nipples if you always wear an ill-fitting bra. Your bra can cause friction on the breast and nipples that lead to dryness and irritation. The condition is also more common to women with asymmetrical breasts (one breast is a cup size larger/smaller than the other); it leaves more room for the smaller breast to move around, which causes friction. This is the same reason that not wearing a bra frequently can also cause irritation. So, make sure to get yourself a well-fitting bra.
- Yeast Infection
If you’ve had a vaginal yeast infection in the past, it will be more likely for it show up on your boobs as well. Women who are under stress, pregnant, or with immune-suppressing diseases such as diabetes and HIV infection are prone to this condition. Topical antifungal medications can ease the irritation. Also, make sure the skin is always dry.
Itchy Nipples and Cancer
So, are itchy nipples a sign of breast cancer? Itchiness on the breast does not automatically mean you have breast cancer, in fact, it would be a rare situation. The irritation will be most likely be caused by the reasons mentioned above. However, while it is rare, the itchiness can be a symptom of a type of cancer called Paget’s Disease.
Paget’s disease is a rare form of breast cancer, where cancer cells develop in or around the nipple. It usually affects the ducts of the nipples first, then it spreads to the outer surface of the nipple and areola. At first, it appears as a red, scaly rash on the skin, similar to eczema, with some discharge or bleeding from the nipple.
With Paget’s disease, there is a possibility that there will be breast cancer in the tissues behind the nipple. It can be a carcinoma in situ, or the cancer cells haven’t spread beyond the lining of the breast ducts. There are cases of Paget’s disease with no underlying breast cancer, though it is less common.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer also causes significant skin irritation. Itchy nipples can be the result of having a patch of the skin exposed to radiation. Moisturization can cure the irritation, however, sometimes a stronger prescriptive medication may be needed.
Again, Paget’s disease is rare, but it will be helpful for you to be vigilant about changes happening to your nipples and breasts. If the itchiness doesn’t go away after a few days or even worsen, consult the doctor immediately. Also, seek medical help once you notice one of the following:
- bloody, yellow, or brown discharge
- inverted nipple
- pain in the breast area
- skin changes, resembling an orange peel
- thickened breast tissue
Treatments for itchy nipples will depend on the cause. It will be helpful to consult a dermatologist or ob-gyn about your situation. Make sure to take the full prescriptive treatment to prevent the irritation from coming back.