Nipples are very sensitive, so it’s not unusual for them to feel irritated. While this can be painful and frustrating, it’s usually nothing to worry about. There are several things that can cause this, and most are easy to treat at home. But sometimes it can be a sign of an infection that needs treatment.

Read on to learn more about the causes of a burning sensation in your nipple and how to treat them.

The skin of your nipples is easily damaged, leading to inflammation and pain. Friction from clothing or other materials can cause a kind of burning pain that feels similar to a rug burn. The pain may be constant or come and go.

Other potential causes of nipple irritation include:

  • an allergic reaction to new clothing, laundry detergent, or beauty products
  • a bra or sports bra that doesn’t fit properly
  • cuts, bites, or bruises sustained during sexual activity
  • improper latch while breastfeeding
  • sunburn
  • insect bites

If your nipples are burning from skin irritation and you aren’t breastfeeding, try applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, available on Amazon. This should help soothe inflammation. You can also use aloe vera gel, available here, to decrease the burning sensation.

Breast infections are common among breastfeeding women, but they can also affect non-breastfeeding women and men.

Mastitis refers to an infection in your breast tissue. This can lead to:

  • swelling and redness of the breast
  • breast pain and tenderness
  • burning sensation in the breast
  • breast that feels warm to the touch
  • fever and chills
  • flu-like symptoms

Treating mastitis usually involves antibiotics to clear up the infection. You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), to reduce pain and inflammation. While you recover, make sure to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.

Breasts go through many changes during pregnancy. Near the end, they begin to enlarge and become tender. As breast skin stretches, it can leave nipples feeling raw and irritated.

Latching issues

Following pregnancy, many women experience additional nipple pain if they breastfeed. This is often due to poor latching. It can take many tries to figure out the best position and technique for good latching. Try making sure your baby is covering most of your areola with their mouth to reduce extra pressure on your nipple. The nipple should be far back in the baby’s mouth. Practice a deeper latch with each session of breastfeeding. If your nipples are getting worse, it may be time to see or call a lactation consultant for help. Many states have free breastfeeding support lines.

Thrush

Breastfeeding women can also develop nipple thrush. This is a type of yeast infection. Babies can get thrush in their mouths and pass it along to their mothers, or vice versa. Thrush often begins in one breast and can spread to the other.

Symptoms of thrush on the nipple include:

  • burning pain on the nipple
  • extreme breast pain that’s constant or only present when breastfeeding
  • a sharp, stabbing, hot pain immediately after breastfeeding
  • shiny and flaking skin on your nipple and areola
  • stabbing pain behind your nipples

Try to keep your nipples dry between feedings and change nipple pads frequently if you use them. It’s also best to check in with your doctor about using an antifungal cream. While most are safe to use while breastfeeding, it’s always good to check with a doctor first. You can also try applying yogurt containing live active cultures to your nipple. Be sure to wash the yogurt off before the baby breastfeeds to reduce the chance of exposure to cow’s milk before 1 year.

Other causes

Breastfeeding can also leave nipples dry, cracked, and painful. Try dabbing a bit of breast milk on your nipples for relief. You can also try these five natural remedies for cracked nipples.

Other breastfeeding complications that can cause burning pain include:

  • Engorgement. This often happens the first week after delivery as the milk comes in. It can also happen when the baby has missed a feed or two. The breasts become full of milk, warm, and sore. Engorgement may make it difficult for the baby to latch, since the tissue won’t mold easily in the baby’s mouth. It usually resolves within 48 hours, and the breasts soften.
  • Plugged milk duct. Sometimes, milk ducts don’t properly drain. This usually happens in one breast at a time. The milk thickens and causes a plug. A tender lump behind the nipple forms. Massage this lump while breastfeeding to release it. Change breastfeeding positions. Turn the baby’s chin toward the lump for best drainage.

Left untreated, both of these conditions can turn into mastitis. You can reduce swelling and improve milk flow by applying a warm compress a couple of minutes before breastfeeding.

Other treatments include:

  • feeding often
  • applying hot towels to your breasts or taking a hot shower before feeding
  • applying cold packs after feeding (frozen bags of peas can be shaped to fit the breast)
  • massaging your breasts to manually release any extra milk
  • breastfeeding or pumping more often

Breast pain is often associated with hormonal changes. Cyclic breast pain refers to pain that happens every month around the start of your period. While it usually causes a dull, aching pain, some people experience it as a burning sensation.

You might also experience hormone-related breast pain if you’re taking hormones. Talk to your doctor about adjusting your dosage.

Breast pain related to hormonal changes usually resolves once your hormones return to their usual levels. In the meantime, taking NSAIDs can help to reduce pain.

Paget’s disease of the nipple is a rare form of breast cancer. It happens when cancer cells grow in or around the nipple. The cancer typically begins in the milk ducts and spreads to the surface of the nipple and areola.

Symptoms of Paget’s disease may come and go in the beginning, making it hard to get an early diagnosis.

Symptoms involving the nipple include:

  • scaly, red patches
  • a burning sensation
  • itchiness or tingling
  • pain and tenderness
  • flattening of the nipple
  • yellow or bloody discharge from the nipple

If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor. They can help to rule out other causes such as psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and skin cancer. They will help you come up with a treatment plan. If you don’t have health insurance or have limited access to healthcare, you can find free or low-cost medical centers here.

Most cases of burning pain in your nipple don’t require a trip to the doctor. But if you have symptoms listed above or signs of an infection, such as mastitis, make an appointment.

If you’re breastfeeding, you can also contact a lactation consultant. They can help you develop new breastfeeding techniques to make things easier for you and your baby. You can find a local lactation consultant here.

Talk to a doctor about any burning sensation that doesn’t go away after a few weeks.