Why Does My Nipple Hurt
When something hurts, we want to figure out why so fast as possible. We may even try to avoid whatever it is that’s causing the pain in order to stop it from happening again. But when our nipples start hurting, figuring out what exactly is wrong can be a little trickier than most pains because of their sensitivity.
There are many different kinds of nipple discomfort, but most are caused by irritation or infection. One major cause of sore nipples is tight clothing. When the fabric presses against the delicate skin, it becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes redness, itchiness, and tenderness. Even a bra with a minimizer strap can cause this problem. If you wear bras that don’t fit properly, your breasts will rub together unevenly which can lead to sores on your nipples.
Other painful conditions include eczema, psoriasis, scabies, ringworm, and yeast infections. Eczema affects 1 percent of American children and adults and often appears around the age of six. Itchy patches develop on the outer layer of skin called the epidermis. People who suffer from eczema also experience other symptoms including dry eyes, mouth, nose, throat and scalp. Because these conditions occur on the surface of the skin, they’re much easier to treat than those deep inside the body like breast cancers and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Another condition affecting the nipples is lactation. Breastfeeding mothers need about two weeks after birth before they’re ready to nurse without pain. During this time, the mother produces milk to feed her baby. The production of milk causes tiny blood vessels under the breast tissue to expand. These enlarged blood vessels become engorged with blood, making them swell up and get very tender. After the first few days, however, the woman usually doesn’t feel any more discomfort.
Breastfeeding isn’t the only reason some people struggle with sore nipples. Pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause can also bring on nipple pain. Menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding can tighten muscles and ligaments surrounding the breasts. As a result, the breasts might not move freely, which could put pressure on the nipples. Other factors like hormonal changes are less obvious. Hormone fluctuations affect everyone differently, but overall, estrogen levels decrease while testosterone increases during menopause. Estrogen deficiency leads to hot flashes, night sweats, and loss of bone density. All of these things can change the way a woman’s breasts look and feel. With the right treatment, though, nipple pain shouldn’t last long.
The following pages contain tips for treating nipple pain. First up, how can you tell if your nipples are sore?
Treating Sore Nipples
Nipple pain can range from mild to severe. Mild cases tend to go away within a day or two. Moderate-to-severe cases can require daily medication. You should consult your doctor if the pain lasts longer than three weeks. Some signs of nipple pain include redness, swelling, itching, cracking, discharge, and numbness [sources: Medline Plus; WebMD]. Your doctor may prescribe topical ointments to relieve the pain. He or she may also recommend wearing loose fitting cotton shirts instead of tighter ones. Another option would be to use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin.
If your nipples burn or sting, you’ve probably developed a rash. Most rashes are harmless, but some can be dangerous. Red spots or bumps on your nipples could indicate a bacterial infection known as impetigo. In infants, diaper rash can turn into a nasty case of diaper dermatitis which requires medical attention. To prevent rashes, wash your hands regularly and keep your nipples clean. Change diapers frequently, especially if there is a possibility of fecal matter getting underneath the foreskin. Use a soft towel rather than rough paper towels to wipe down your nipples. Keep your nipples moist by using lotion or keeping them covered with a breathable film. Don’t touch your nipples with dirty fingers. Wash your hands before eating and drink plenty of fluids.
Your doctor will likely test your nipples for sensitivity by applying various substances such as water, alcohol, soap, and glycerin to see how well they react. A positive response means you have hypersensitive nerves. If you aren’t sure whether your nipples are hypersensitive, ask your health care provider to perform a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking one or several samples of cells from a part of the body. It’s used to diagnose certain illnesses and tumors. Doctors usually take a sample from the affected area, which is the same procedure doctors use to diagnose breast cancer. Biopsies allow physicians to determine whether the abnormal results are cancerous.
In addition to having hypersensitive nerve endings, another type of person has extremely sensitive nipples. Those types of people have atopic dermatitis, a chronic allergic disease that affects the skin. Atopic dermatitis occurs due to allergies to dust mites, pollen, pet dander, food allergens, medications, and fabrics. Sensitivity to wool, latex, and perfume can also lead to symptoms. While you can’t completely eliminate triggers, you can minimize exposure to anything that provokes an allergic reaction. Wearing gloves might help you avoid contamination. Avoiding contact with plants and animals can also lessen the severity of allergy attacks. If your child suffers from allergies, consider investing in special bedding, toys, and clothing made of hypoallergenic materials.
Now let’s learn what you can do to alleviate the pain associated with nipple soreness.
Treatment for Painful Nipples
It’s important to seek treatment for nipple pain immediately. Left untreated, the condition can spread to the rest of the breast and even the lymph nodes. Nipple pain can also spread to the armpit where it’s harder to detect because it happens deeper in the body. Untreated nipple pain can eventually spread to the entire breast.
A physician can provide advice on relieving nipple pain. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause. Topical creams, antibiotics, antihistamines, and steroid hormones work best on non-infectious conditions. Antibiotics are effective against staphylococcus bacteria, strep, and other microorganisms. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce swelling and pain. They can also ease morning sickness and headaches related to hormonal changes. Steroid hormones relax tense tissues and increase collagen production, which helps the skin retain its elasticity.
For bacterial infections, a doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics or apply an antibiotic paste directly to the infected area. Consult your doctor if the infection spreads outside the breast or worsens. There are also prescription treatments available for mastitis, an infection of the breast ducts. Mastitis is characterized by pus, fever, and general aches and pains.
If you suspect you have breast cancer, call your healthcare provider immediately. Breast cancer can show itself through lumps, thickening, discoloration, and dimpling of the skin. Breast cancer can also interfere with mammograms. Mammograms are useful for detecting breast cancer early on. Ultrasounds are helpful in diagnosing breast cancer and determining the extent of the tumor growth. Blood tests can reveal elevated levels of proteins involved in breast cancer.
Since breast cancer is a serious illness, it’s important to discuss treatment options with your healthcare professional. Surgery is often necessary to remove the tumor. Chemotherapy is sometimes required to shrink the size of larger tumors. Radiation therapy can also destroy remaining cancer cells. Many women choose to undergo lumpectomies or mastectomies — surgical removal of one or both breasts, respectively. Women choosing this route must adhere closely to postoperative radiation therapy.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer should talk to their doctors about reconstructive surgery. Reconstruction involves replacing missing tissue with new fleshy material. The goal of reconstruction is to restore normal appearance and function of the breast. Two methods are commonly used to rebuild breasts: implants and autologous fat transfer. Implants are inserted beneath the chest muscle and appear just below the chest wall. Fat grafting involves injecting fat taken from other areas of the patient’s body into the breast. Autologous fat transfer works similarly to liposuction. Liposuction removes fat from one part of the body and places it back onto the breast. Both procedures are widely accepted since they produce natural looking breasts. However, patients should know that complications with implant placement or fat injection are possible. Recovery times from either method vary. Patients undergoing fat transfer will typically spend four to eight hours in a hospital bed recovering before returning home. Implant recovery takes five to seven days.
On the next page, find out why pregnant women often complain about sore nipples.
During pregnancy, your breasts grow bigger and fuller. The increased amount of fluid makes them heavier. The weight gain comes from amniotic fluid, a clear liquid found between the fetus and the uterine wall. Amniotic fluid nourishes the unborn infant.
While nursing, your body produces milk to give to the newborn. Milk contains nutrients essential for growing babies.
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