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Why Is My Nipple Hurting

by Lyndon Langley
15 comments
Why Is My Nipple Hurting

Why Is My Nipple Hurting

Nipples are super-sensitive skin that gets irritated just by tight clothing or rubbing against a bra strap. They’re also prone to infection and inflammation. A rash on your nipple could be an allergic reaction, while a fungal infection might cause itchy red bumps. And sometimes even a small bump on your chest can turn into a painful lump that won’t go away. But don’t panic — most cases of nipple discomfort are harmless and easy to treat.
First, let’s talk about rashes. Like other parts of our body, we’ve got a variety of bacteria and fungi living on our skin. Some of these organisms thrive when exposed to moisture and warmth (like those found in warm showers), which is why rashes often occur around our genitals, armpits, and underarms. Rashes aren’t usually dangerous, but they do need to be treated. If you notice any redness, swelling, pus, or odor coming from your nipple area, see your doctor immediately. You may have cellulitis, a bacterial infection that must be treated with antibiotics.
Next up, let’s talk lumps. Breast tissue is made up mostly of fat cells, so it’s not surprising that some people develop abnormal fatty deposits under their breasts. These fatty growths are called lipomas, and they’re not dangerous. When one develops near your nipple, however, it can become painful and hard to the touch. Lipomas are generally benign tumors that will eventually disappear on their own. In extreme cases, they can be surgically removed through a procedure known as liposuction.
Now let’s talk about allergies. Allergies affect more than 300 million people worldwide, and many types of allergens can trigger symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, and hives [Source: Centers for Disease Control]. The best way to avoid allergies is to keep yourself clean and well-groomed. However, if you suffer from allergy-related conditions such as asthma, hay fever, or eczema, you should always consult your physician before taking over-the-counter antihistamines.
One type of allergy that affects both men and women is contact dermatitis. It’s caused by substances that come into physical contact with our skin, like fragrances, laundry detergent, cosmetics, plants, metals, rubber, wool, leather, nickel, and certain fabrics. Contact dermatitis ranges from mild irritation to severe burning and blistering. Fortunately, most cases respond well to topical medication, making them less likely to scar or leave permanent marks.
You’ll find out next how nipple discomfort typically occurs.
Most Common Causes of Nipple Pain
During puberty, girls begin developing sex organs and experience changes to their bodies. One of the first noticeable signs of this development is the appearance of new sexual dimorphisms — differences between males and females. This includes the fact that female nipples look different from male nipples. Female nipples tend to be smaller and rounder, whereas male nipples are larger and fleshier. Male nipples are located at the center of two inverted U-shaped folds; the surrounding areolae are usually darker pigmented than the rest of the breast. Both sexes grow hair on their nipples, but only women get milk ducts there. Nipple sensitivity is a normal part of growing up, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a girl has started menstruating or that she’s pregnant.
The most common reason that young girls complain of sore nipples is because they wear bras too tightly. Bras are designed to support the breasts, so wearing one without loosening the straps enough can put undue pressure on your chest cavity. As bras age, they lose elasticity and start to sag down over time. Wearing a loose-fitting bra can relieve much of this pressure, allowing you to breathe freely. Loose-fitting shirts also help reduce pressure, especially if they’re long-sleeved.
Pregnancy hormones can cause sore nipples as well. During this period, estrogen production increases dramatically, causing the outer layer of skin covering the nipples to thicken. As a result, nipples can swell and become tender. Milk glands produce more fluid, and mothers’ nipples become sensitive to sudden temperature changes. Newborn babies also experience nipple discomfort due to colostrum leaking out. After birth, nursing moms may experience dryness and itching of the nipples.
Breastfeeding can also lead to nipple discomfort. Breasts constantly secrete milk, and mothers have to pump it out using hand expression devices. This constant pumping puts tremendous stress on the breasts and nipples, leading to soreness. Also, after each feeding infants suck the breast harder, creating suction pressure that hurts the nipple. Once children reach school age, they learn to use paper or plastic cups instead of hands to drink beverages, further irritating already inflamed nipples.
Finally, let’s talk about infections. Bacterial infections are the second most common cause of nipple pain among women aged 15 to 44 years old. Vaginal yeast infections are the number one cause of nipple pain in younger women, accounting for nearly 40 percent of cases. Yeast infections happen when fungus grows inside the vagina. To combat this, doctors prescribe medications like Clotrimazole or Amphotericin B cream. Women who have diabetes are also susceptible to genital sores that can spread to their nipples. Diabetic ulcers form underneath the skin, where bacteria thrives, making it easier to infect the underlying tissues. Left untreated, infected wounds can break open and allow germs to enter the bloodstream.
Although rare, viral infections can also affect the nipples. Herpes simplex virus 1 can attack the nerves beneath the surface of the skin, causing intense itching and painful sores. Human papillomavirus can also invade the skin, resulting in wart-like growths. Candida albicans, a kind of fungus, can enter the skin through cuts and abrasions.
Treating Infections
If you think you have a bacterial infection, seek medical attention right away. Left untreated, bacterial infections can quickly progress to serious health problems. Most minor examples of bacterial infection can clear up on their own in several days. If you still feel sick after a week, or your condition worsens, call your physician. Your doctor will take cultures of the affected area and prescribe antibiotics.
Infection can also spread deeper into the skin. If you notice blisters, welts, or any sort of rash, visit your doctor right away. Viral infections are similar to bacterial ones in terms of treatment: apply hydrocortisone ointment to stop the spreading of the infection, stay home until the condition improves, and take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you suspect you have a fungal infection, ask your doctor whether you should try antifungals. If you don’t improve within three weeks, see a doctor.
To prevent recurring nipple discomfort, pay close attention to what you eat. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, particularly milk, and consider eating foods rich in vitamins C and E. These nutrients can help boost your immune system and fight off infections. Finally, if you want to ward off future nipple issues, consider going braless.

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