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Itchy nipple

An itch that "drives me up the wall" and an itch that "was never satisfied" by scratching: just two of the descriptions used by women or men who experience the torment of 'itchy nipple'.

Some people report having the condition for months, while others say it left them worried about whether it was a symptom of serious disease.

What are the causes of itchy nipple?

Eczema

One potential cause of itchy nipples is eczema.

Eczema is a dry skin condition. It varies between individuals, ranging from skin that is dry, scaly, red and itchy in some people to weeping, crusting and bleeding in others.

The condition can affect people of all ages. In the UK, one in five children and one in 12 adults have eczema.

Damaged skin is vulnerable to infection. Eczema is often infected by a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, which makes the eczema worse and slower to heal.

The symptoms of eczema can be eased by keeping natural moisture in the skin. Cut down on the use of soap and gels that can dry the skin, and prolonged contact with water.

Eczema is frequently treated with emollients and topical steroids. Seek medical advice about what creams and ointments are safe to apply if you are breastfeeding.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

The National Eczema Society says nipple eczema is often a more common problem in pregnancy and after giving birth. Women may find breastfeeding difficult because nipple eczema may cause irritation and fissuring of the nipples.

Pain is not normal for women who breastfeed and the NHS says that putting up with the discomfort could make things worse. It recommends a number of techniques including avoiding soap, which can dry the skin, wearing a cotton bra so that air can circulate and treating any cracks or bleeding with a thin smear of white soft paraffin or purified lanolin.

Jogger's nipple

Jogger's nipple is a common condition experienced by runners, caused when the nipples chafe against clothing during physical activity.

The symptoms of jogger's nipple are irritation, soreness, redness of the skin and dryness. If the condition persists the nipples may crack and bleed.

It can be treated by using some antiseptic cream to treat the irritation and prevent infection.

Use some petroleum jelly or other barrier cream on the nipples to help prevent jogger's nipple. Surgical tape can prevent frictional harm to the nipples.

Paget's disease

Paget's disease is a rare type of breast cancer, affecting one to two women out of every 100 with breast cancer.

It produces eczema-like symptoms and appears as a red rash on the nipple or the surrounding darker areola combined with an itchy or burning sensation. There may also be bleeding and discharge from the nipple.

These symptoms are not conclusive proof of Paget's disease and can be confused with eczema. It is therefore important to seek medical advice. Your GP may recommend further tests.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 05, 2012

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