An itchy breast or nipple can seem like an
embarrassing problem, but it happens to many people in their lifetime. There are
several causes of an itchy breast or nipple, from skin irritation to rarer and
more alarming causes, such as breast cancer.
What causes an itchy breast or nipple?
Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of an itchy breast or nipple. This type of
dermatitis is also called eczema, which is an inflammation of the skin. While its
cause is unknown, atopic dermatitis can cause dry skin, itching, and rash.
Certain factors can worsen an itchy breast
or nipple, including:
- artificial fibers
- wool fibers
Dry skin can also cause your breasts or
nipples to itch.
Pregnancy increases the likelihood for
breast and nipple itching. The breasts typically enlarge during pregnancy.
Stretching skin can lead to itching and flaking.
Mastitis, a breast tissue
infection, can also cause breast and nipple itching. This condition most
commonly affects new mothers who are breast-feeding. Breast-feeding mothers may
experience a blocked milk duct or bacterial exposure, leading to mastitis.
Additional symptoms of mastitis include:
- pain or
burning when breast-feeding
Rarely, an itchy breast or nipple can be
the symptom of a more serious medical condition. Paget disease of the breast, a
rare form of cancer, causes breast and nipple itching. This type of cancer
specifically affects the nipple, although a cancerous tumor is often found in
the breast as well. Early Paget disease symptoms can mimic atopic dermatitis or
eczema. Other symptoms include:
- a flattened
- a lump in the
- discharge from
- skin changes
on the nipple or breast
Breast itching and warmth can be signs of
breast cancer as well, especially inflammatory breast cancer. Changes to the
texture of your breast can also be cause for concern.
What are the symptoms of an itchy breast or nipple?
An itchy breast or nipple causes the urge
to scratch at your skin. The discomfort can range from mild to severe, and may
be an occasional or constant urge. Scratching can cause the delicate skin to
become red, swollen, cracked, or thickened. While scratching may temporarily
relieve the urge, it can also damage the skin.
When to seek medical help
If your itchy breast or nipple doesn’t go
away after a few days, or if it seems to worsen, make an appointment to see
You should see your doctor right away if
- bloody, yellow, or
- inverted nipple
- painful breasts
- skin changes that make
your breast resemble an orange peel
- thickened breast tissue
If you’re breast-feeding and you experience
extreme pain or other mastitis symptoms, seek medical help.
How is an itchy breast or nipple treated?
Mastitis is treated with antibiotics. Make
sure to take the full treatment course to prevent the infection from coming
back. Other steps that can also help reduce mastitis symptoms include:
over-the-counter pain relievers
plenty of fluids
Paget disease and breast cancer are
treated with a variety of approaches. These include:
removal of all or a portion of the breast
Chemotherapy and radiation both work to
kill or shrink cancerous cells.
How do I care for an itchy breast or nipple?
Treatments for itchy breast or nipple
depend upon the cause. Most symptoms should resolve with over-the-counter
treatments, including adopting a skin care routine that includes washing your
skin with a mild soap and lukewarm water.
A skin cream that does not contain
perfumes or dyes may ease symptoms. Topical applications of corticosteroids may
also reduce inflammation. Avoiding allergenic substances can also put a stop to
How can I prevent an itchy breast or nipple?
Proper and careful skin care can prevent
itchy breast or nipple due to atopic dermatitis. Other causes of itchiness,
including cancers, often cannot be prevented.
Mastitis prevention includes allowing your
breasts to fully drain of milk while breast-feeding. Other preventive steps
- alternating the breast
you first offer during feedings
- alternating the
position you use to breast-feed your baby
- ensuring your baby
empties one breast before using the other for breast-feeding
- seeking the advice of a
lactation consultant to achieve a better latch