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Your nipples are delicate areas that probably don’t top your list of places you want bumps to appear. Yet, here they are. Most of the time, bumps on your nipples or areolae aren’t cause for concern, but there are some more serious conditions that can make bumps appear.

Before we dig into some of the reasons why you might see bumps from time to time (or all the time) on your nipples, a quick anatomy refresher: The circle of darker pigmented skin on your breast is called the areola (areolae, plural). The nipple itself is just the center of the area.

Many of the causes for bumps listed below refer to both the areola and nipple.

The following are some potential causes of bumps on or around the nipples:

1. Acne

Sadly, sometimes pimples can extend beyond the face. They can develop when sweat, oil, and dirt invade pores in and around your nipple. They’re usually whiteheads, or a bump with a white, circular top and red area underneath.

2. Breast cancer

Although not a common cause of bumps on the nipples, it’s possible that they could be due to breast cancer. If your nipple starts to turn inward or has discharge coming from it, you should see your doctor.

3. Eczema

Eczema can form on your nipple or areola, usually as a reaction to laundry detergents, lotions, or irritation from clothing fibers. The condition causes itchy, scaly bumps that may occur on one or both nipples.

4. Hidradenitis suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a condition where sweat glands become blocked, leading to inflammation, irritation, and infection in the skin. While the condition commonly affects the armpits and groin, you can have the condition on your nipple area and under the breasts as well.

You’ll have red, irritated bumps and lesions where sweat glands are present.

5. Ingrown hair

Although they’re sometimes hard to see, there are small hair follicles around your nipple. These small hairs can curl back in towards the skin and cause an ingrown hair. The hair follicle can become infected, causing an irritated bump that may swell and itch.

6. Milk blisters

Milk blisters are a medical condition that can cause bumps filled with breast milk that has become trapped in the breast ducts. They may look like pimples, but are actually blisters. These can be painful, but are typically not considered dangerous.

7. Montgomery’s tubercles

Montgomery’s tubercles are types of oil-producing glands people have on their areolae. They appear as small bumps.

Doctors consider Montgomery’s glands protective because they produce oil that keeps nipples soft and protects against infection, which is especially beneficial during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The glands may also produce a scent that helps lead a baby to the nipple to feed.

While these may enlarge in pregnancy, women naturally have them. Men also have Montgomery’s tubercles.

8. Paget’s disease

Paget’s disease is a rare breast cancer that makes up less than 5 percent of all breast cancers in the United States. The condition usually occurs in a person who already has breast cancer, yet Paget’s disease causes a different kind of breast cancer cell to form. It causes symptoms like nipple:

  • redness
  • scaling
  • itching
  • irritation

9. Subareolar abscess

A subareolar abscess is an infection that occurs due to a buildup of bacteria in a protein of breast tissue. The condition can occur in breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding women. Women may notice bumps and redness along with pain, tenderness, and swelling.

10. Yeast infection

Women, especially breastfeeding women, may experience a yeast infection doctors call nipple thrush. The condition can cause reddened nipples that may crack, itch, or flake. Often, it also causes pain in the nipples and breasts during breastfeeding. You might also notice your baby has oral thrush, or white lesions inside their cheeks.

These are just some common examples of conditions that can cause bumps on your nipples. If your symptoms don’t match any of these potential causes, talk to your doctor.

The following are conditions that can cause bumps on nipples in specific populations.

Breastfeeding women

Breastfeeding women are unfortunately at greater risk for a number of medical conditions that cause bumps on and around the nipples. Examples of these include:

  • blocked duct
  • blocked pore
  • mastitis
  • milk blister
  • yeast infections

If you experience breastfeeding discomfort, breast swelling, or redness, or signs you may have an infection related to your breasts, call your lactation consultant, midwife, or doctor. Your provider can direct you as to the best next steps and advise you on the best course of treatment.

People with piercings

Nipple piercings are vulnerable to infections, especially in a newer piercing. You can also develop cysts or hematomas, which are collections of fluid or blood underneath the skin, due to nipple piercings. These can cause bumps on the nipples.

A person can also have scarring called keloids that develop after nipple piercing. This is an overgrowth of scar tissue that can turn into a hard, pimple-like bump.

You can expect some itching, redness, and even mild discharge as the piercing heals. But if the nipple becomes red, painful, or hot to the touch, call your doctor.

Men

From pimples to ingrown hairs, men can experience many of the same causes of bumps on the nipples as women. If men see small, yellow areas on the skin, they may be sweat glands, dry skin, or a skin disorder, like eczema.

Men can get breast cancer. Talk to your doctor if you observe changes to your nipples, such as bumps that appear scaly, or are accompanied by discharge and swelling. Men can also get Paget’s disease.

A provider will ask you about your symptoms and when you first started noticing them. They will assess your nipple and surrounding breast tissue.

Oftentimes, a doctor may be able to diagnose your condition by a physical exam and listening to your symptoms. In rare cases, they may recommend obtaining a tissue sample to send to a laboratory for evaluation.

If a doctor is concerned the affected area may be cancer, they may refer you to a specialist to biopsy your breast tissue.

Treatments for bumps on the nipples depend on the underlying cause. Sometimes, as is the case for Montgomery’s tubercles, you don’t need any treatment. Some general tips for treating bumps and irritation on your nipples include:

  • Keep the skin on your breasts clean and dry. Wash your breasts daily with mild soap and warm water.
  • Refrain from using highly fragranced detergents or lotions on the breasts.
  • Change any sports bras or sweaty shirts immediately after exercising. Wipe your breasts off with a baby wipe or towel to remove excess sweat.
  • Wear clothing that has all-natural fibers or sweat-wicking capabilities. These allow the skin to “breathe.”
  • Apply a non-fragranced lotion — or one marketed for “sensitive skin” — to keep the skin soft.

If taking these steps doesn’t help to resolve the bumps on your nipples, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe topical creams or oral medications to treat infection or irritation.

Nipple pain and discomfort isn’t a normal part of life. If you experience bumps on your nipples that are painful and irritated and don’t resolve after a few days of home care, see your doctor.

At-home treatments can help reduce irritation and dryness that can lead to bumps on your nipples. However, don’t be embarrassed to seek treatment. There are a lot of solutions that doctors can recommend if the bumps are painful and uncomfortable to you.