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Irritated, red, and itchy skin from a rash is a nuisance anywhere on the body. However, for women, rashes between the breasts can be especially so.
From infections to the result of excess heat, there are many reasons why a woman may experience a rash between her breasts. Read on to find out more information about the most common causes, their treatments, and tips for prevention.
Most causes of rashes between the breasts are the result of friction and heat. There are also some causes that are directly related to breastfeeding. Here’s a look at some of the most common culprits:
Heat rash or prickly heat is a common cause of rashes between the breasts. While many people associate this condition with children, adults can experience a heat rash too. True to its name, a heat rash occurs when temperatures are warm and humid.
Heat rashes crop up when excess sweat, produced by the sweat glands, is blocked from reaching the surface of the skin where it evaporates. The areas underneath and between the breasts are especially vulnerable because the skin rubs against each other and this friction increases the likelihood of a heat rash.
Intertrigo is a skin condition that occurs when two skin surfaces rub against each other. The result can be a red, irritated, and inflamed skin rash that sometimes has a smell. Friction, such as the breasts rubbing together, can cause intertrigo.
Because sweat tends to collect in areas like this, the moisture can attract fungus and bacteria. Women are more likely to experience this condition in the summertime, especially if they have larger breasts. The condition may also affect women who exercise a great deal.
Inflammatory breast cancer
Inflammatory breast cancer is a breast cancer type where cells grow rapidly. The symptoms can develop and worsen over the course of three to six months. In addition to causing a red rash that affects most of the breast, inflammatory breast cancer symptoms also include:
- breast swelling
- itchy breasts
- inverted nipple
- painful breasts
- tender breasts
- thickened skin of the breast
Often, symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may initially resemble those of mastitis or a breast infection. If a doctor prescribes you antibiotics and the symptoms don’t get better, see your doctor in a week to 10 days.
Paget’s disease is a rare form of breast cancer that affects the nipple and areola (the dark skin around the nipple). The condition may closely resemble eczema or contact dermatitis (skin irritation). Other symptoms may include:
- thickened skin around the nipple
- flattened nipple
- bloody or yellow discharge from the nipple
Sometimes conditions that affect the entire body can also cause rashes between the breasts. Examples of these conditions can include shingles, eczema, and psoriasis, among others. These conditions will not only affect the area between the breasts, they’ll also impact other parts of the body, such as the extremities or abdomen.
Mastitis is a condition where the breast tissue becomes infected. This is very common in women who are breastfeeding, and it often only occurs in one breast. However, a woman doesn’t have to be breastfeeding to have mastitis. Symptoms associated with mastitis include:
- breast swelling
- breast that is warm to the touch
- breast pain
- fever that is 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- skin redness
The condition can happen to breastfeeding moms when a milk duct becomes clogged or bacteria enters the breast from a crack in a mom’s nipple.
A breast abscess or subareolar breast abscess is a condition that can occur if mastitis remains untreated. The abscess is an area of infected fluid known as pus. The abscess will appear like a lump that is red, painful, and tender to the touch. While this rash and irritation usually occurs in breastfeeding women, it can also occur in women who aren’t breastfeeding. Sometimes, a doctor will have to drain the abscess and prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
Having diabetes can increase your risk for certain skin infections and dry skin. For example, those with diabetes are at increased risk for fungal infections due to Candida albicans. The more uncontrolled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to experience this infection type. This fungus commonly grows under the breasts and can cause an itchy, red rash in addition to blistering and scaling.
Circulating hormones and weight gain can make you more prone to rashes between the breasts during pregnancy. In addition to rashes from heat or sweating, you may also experience some rashes that are unique to pregnancy. These can include a condition called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy or PUPPP.
This condition causes small red bumps or hives to form on the body. Although they usually start on the stomach, the bumps can spread to the breasts.
Another pregnancy-related rash that can affect the breasts is prurigo of pregnancy. This is a condition that cause small bumps to appear that look like insect bites. Prurigo is an immune system-related reaction that may last for several months after a woman has given birth.
Keeping the skin clean, cool, and dry can help treat most causes of rashes between the breasts. Examples of steps to take include:
- Gently clean the affected area with antibacterial soap and warm water. Pat dry the area when done.
- Apply fragrance-free moisturizer, antibiotic ointment, or an antifungal cream as recommended by your physician.
- Refrain from scratching the skin.
- Avoid using highly fragranced soaps, lotions, or perfumes around the breasts.
- Wear soft, comfortable clothing made of breathable fabrics, such as cotton.
- Consider placing a special soft fabric with antimicrobial materials, such as InterDry between the breasts to reduce itching and friction.
- Change out of sweaty clothing as quickly as possible after exercising or being outdoors in the heat.
If you suspect your breast symptoms are due to an infection, see your physician. You may need topical or oral antibiotics for the rash to go away.
Most cases of rashes between the breasts will go away with over-the-counter treatments and are not cause for concern. However, if you have symptoms that could indicate an infection or potential breast cancer, see your physician as soon as possible.