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Why do my nipples hurt?

Most women have experienced sore nipples at some time or another. They can be triggered by many causes, including friction, hormonal imbalances, inflammatory disorders, environmental factors, allergies, skin conditions, infections, itching, sensitivity, sexual activity, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Nipple cancer is rare and if both nipples are sore, it’s rarely a sign of breast cancer as that usually only affects one breast at a time.

Friction

Known as fissure of the nipple or “jogger’s nipple”, friction from running or other sports can cause nipple pain. Working out without a bra, or wearing a poorly fitted sports bra, can cause soreness by repeated friction of fabric against the skin. Symptoms may include:

  • Soreness
  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Bleeding

Prolonged periods of exercise put you more at risk. Long distance runners are most prone to the condition but other athletes are affected too. Surfers who don’t wear rash guards may also experience this condition.

To prevent friction:

  • Always wear a well-fitted sports bra
  • Use synthetic fabrics rather than cotton
  • Wear a waterproof plaster or surgical tape during exercise
  • Use customised protective products, like rash guards
  • If skin is already damaged use nipple shields or apply a barrier cream. 

Seek medical advice if concerned.

 

Allergy or sensitivity

Your nipples are one of the most sensitive areas of your body and react to subtle changes in the environment. They may show sensitivity to various stimuli including:

  • Cold or hot weather
  • Shower gel or soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • Lotions
  • Clothing fabrics such as woollens

Symptoms of sensitivity or allergy can include itching, redness or chapping.

Sexual activity

Vigorous rubbing or friction during sexual activity can cause your nipples to become sore. This is usually temporary and goes away once they have a chance to heal. Applying a barrier gel, antiseptic, or moisturiser as appropriate may help.

Hormonal changes

Nipple pain or discomfort is common at certain times in a woman’s monthly cycle, triggered by the changes in levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Tenderness in the breasts and nipples is most commonly felt prior to your period. This is usually normal and nothing to worry about. If soreness continues beyond a short period of time, seek medical advice. Your GP may carry out hormone tests.

Paget’s disease of the nipple

Very rarely, nipple soreness can be a symptom of Paget’s disease. This is a rare nipple disease that accounts for just 1% of all breast cancers. It may be associated with underlying breast cancer. The cause is unknown.

Early symptoms on the nipple skin include:

  • Redness
  • Crusting

More advanced symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Tingling
  • Sensitivity
  • Pain or burning sensation

Surgery is the most common treatment. Depending on severity, surgery may include:

 

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