Eczema occurs when the outside layer of your skin is unable to protect you from external bacteria, allergens, and irritants.

According to the National Eczema Association, atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and affects more than 18 million people in the United States alone.

Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, you’re much more at risk if you or your family has a history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever.

Eczema on the breast is one of the most common causes of itchiness of the nipple. Breakouts can also occur under or in between your breasts and on the rest of your chest. While symptoms can vary, you may experience:

  • itching
  • dry, cracked or scaly skin
  • red or brownish-gray areas of skin under, in between, or on your breasts
  • small bumps that may discharge fluid and crust over after repeated scratching
  • swollen or overly sensitive skin from scratching

Atopic dermatitis can be long lasting and persistent, as there is currently no cure. However, several treatments and preventative measures exist. Consider these options:

  • Moisturize your skin multiple times a day to keep moisture in. This can be accomplished with different creams, lotions, or petroleum jelly.
  • Identify what seems to trigger a reaction and avoid anything that may worsen the condition. Common triggers are stress, sweat, pollen, food allergies, and harsh soaps and detergents.
  • Take warm (not hot) showers that last less than 15 minutes.
  • Take a diluted bleach bath to prevent flare-ups. Use 1/4 to 1/2 cup of household bleach (not concentrated) and add it to a standard-sized bathtub with warm water. Soak with only your head above the water for 10 minutes, but do not take these more than three times a week. Before you try a bleach bath for your eczema, check with your doctor.
  • After showering or bathing, gently pat your skin until it is still a little damp and apply moisturizer.

Make an appointment with your primary care physician if symptoms persist.

It’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing severe discomfort to the point that it interferes with your day-to-day activities or sleep, or if you think you’re starting to develop a skin infection.

Skin infections are characterized by red streaks, yellow scabs, or pus in the affected area.

In some cases, itchiness of nipples may indicate something more serious than eczema. Paget’s disease of the breast is a rare form of breast cancer that starts in the nipple and extends to the areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple).

It’s commonly misdiagnosed as eczema of the breast or nipple, as the first symptoms are typically a red, scaly rash of the skin.

Although the causes of Paget’s disease of the breast are unknown, many doctors believe it’s the result of a non-invasive underlying breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Cancer cells from an existing tumor in the tissues behind the nipple travel through the milk ducts to the nipple and areola.

Paget’s disease symptoms and risk factors

Paget’s disease of the breast is rare, found in 1 to 4 percent of breast cancers. It’s most common in women older than 50. Risk factors include:

Paget’s can be mistaken for eczema of the breast due to its red, scaly rash. Symptoms usually only occur in one breast and may include:

  • crusty, flaky, thickening, or oozing skin on the nipple and/or areola
  • itching
  • burning or tingling sensations
  • bloody or yellow discharge from the nipple
  • inverted nipple
  • a lump behind the nipple or in the breast

With proper treatment, atopic dermatitis can be managed fairly efficiently. However, you should identify and always be aware of your triggers, as they may cause the condition to return.

If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, or if you are at all concerned, do not hesitate to call your doctor. The typical symptoms of breast eczema may indicate a more serious condition.