Nipple pain may arise from a number of various reasons. It can be caused by tight bra, allergy to laundry detergent, menstruating, pregnancy, and others.
In some cases, nipple pain can also be caused by infections. It is vital to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
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As a symptom, nipple pain differs from person to person. Some may feel their nipples are sore and tender, while others feel sharp pain or pain accompanied by itching.
A nipple can be infected due to an allergic reaction, cracked or bleeding nipples, or nipples that have already been injured by friction. Lactation and breast-feeding may also increase the risk of infection.
Damage to the surrounding tissue can lead to a yeast infection of the nipples, which is a fungal infection caused by Candida albicans. A yeast infection, also known as thrush, at the nipples is often felt as a stinging pain or burning sensation that does not go away by reducing sources of friction. The nipples may be bright pink and the areola may be reddish or flaky.
Many breast-feeding women describe thrush as sharp, hot pain that comes immediately after the feed. The infection may also affect their baby.
Mastitis is possible during pregnancy if milk becomes trapped in one of the milk ducts. Bacteria can begin to grow in the duct and spread. This type of infection can cause a red, swollen, sore breast and nipple.
Mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics. An abscess can develop if left untreated. Anyone experiencing the following symptoms as well as nipple and breast pain should consult a doctor:
- Skin redness on the breast and nipple
- Chills or fever
- Irregular breast swelling
- Breast feeling warm to the touch
Friction is a common reason for the nipples to be sore. Friction can occur if the nipples rub against a shirt or poorly-fitting bra, during sports activities, such as running, surfing, or basketball. Friction on the nipple can often cause soreness and a stinging pain. The skin may also become dry or chapped.
Furthermore, longer periods of exercise mean extended periods of friction, too. People who are sensitive to friction may choose to take extra precautions, such as wearing surgical tape on their nipples during exercise.
Allergy or atopic dermatitis
Flaky, crusty, or blistering skin associated with pain and irritation may be a sign of an allergic reaction or atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema.
There are a range of household products that can irritate the nipples or trigger outbreaks of existing skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis. Rash may occur in some cases. These include:
- laundry detergent
- body lotion
- shaving cream
- fabric softener
A topical anti-inflammatory cream can treat minor cases, but a person should consult a doctor if the rash or redness increases, spreads, and does not respond well to an over-the-counter treatment.
The normal hormonal changes in a woman’s monthly cycle can cause soreness of nipple and breast. These symptoms are usually felt in the days just before start of period, when increase in estrogen and progesterone levels draw more liquid to the breasts and cause them to feel swollen.
The pain associated with hormonal changes usually diminishes when the period starts. If this pain continues for more than a few days, a woman may see her doctor.
Nipple pain can equally be caused by sexual activity. Body friction or sexual activity that involves the nipples can cause soreness. This pain is usually temporary and is often treated by simply giving the nipples time to heal.
Using moisturizers or nipple guards may help keep friction to a minimum and prevent symptoms from deteriorating.
Cancer and Paget’s disease
Some nipple pain associated with other symptoms can be a sign of cancer, although tumors do not usually cause pain. Nipple pain caused by cancer will often only affect one breast and nipple.
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Paget’s disease is a rare type of cancer involving the nipple that commonly occurs alongside tumors in the same breast. People with Paget’s disease and breast cancer may experience:
- yellowish or bloody discharge from the nipple
- a flattened or inverted nipple
- itching or tingling sensations
- reddish, flaky, crusty, or scaly skin around the nipple and areola
Paget’s disease and breast cancer are diagnosed by examining the affected cells. While Paget’s disease is rare, anyone who is uncertain about their symptoms should consult a doctor.
Nipple pain during pregnancy
Nipple pain is also common during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The breasts may be sore and become bigger. The nipples and areola may darken and ache, and small bumps may pop up around the nipples.
Well-fitting support bras may help reduce friction and ease soreness. Some pregnant women find it helpful to wear a supportive sleep bra overnight.
Cooling gel packs can also soothe inflamed or painful nipples caused by breast-feeding.
Breast-feeding is a common cause of nipple soreness. This is mostly caused by the suckling method of the baby. If the baby does not have enough of the breast in its mouth, the nipple will be up against the gum and hard palate. Babies should latch deep on the breast with the nipple at the back of the throat.
If a mother uses a breast pump, this can also cause nipple pain. The pain may be caused by too much suction or using a nipple shield that does not fit correctly. Adjusting the breast pump to a more comfortable setting and acquiring properly-fitting nipple shields may help reduce discomfort.
An infant starting to grow teeth may cause the mother to experience nipple pain, as they may change how they latch on and even bite the nipple. A breast-feeding woman can try to encourage the infant to take more of the breast into their mouth, so they do not bite down as easily.
A woman can prevent nipple pain caused by friction by wearing a properly-fitted sports bra, smooth synthetic fabrics, or by using protective products, such as rash guards and nipple shields. It may also be useful to apply some creams or ointments to help reduce friction.
Nipple soreness caused by hormonal changes in menstruation or pregnancy may respond well to warmth or pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Breast cancer is frequently treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Treatment of minor cases of Paget’s disease usually involves removing the nipple and using radiation treatment on the affected breast. Some cases may require the entire breast tissue to be removed.