If you're dealing with sore nipples, know that you are very far from alone. While this, erm, intimate issue is something you're not likely to discuss on your next mate's catch up Zoom call, it is super common.
Why? Well, your nipples are one of the most sensitive areas on your body. As such, it figures that most of us will, at some time, experience discomfort in this area, for myriad reasons. But not knowing the reason behind the tenderness can be unsettling. We’ve outlined eight potential causes of nipple soreness – from hormonal fluctuations to potentially more severe underlying problems – and how you can treat it.
If you are worried about your nipple soreness, call your GP and explain your symptoms
1.Your hormones are playing up
Hormonal fluctuations are one of the most common reasons for heightened nipple sensitivity, and breast tenderness more broadly. Rising levels of oestrogen and progesterone at certain stages of your menstrual cycle can cause the breast tissue to swell, sometimes causing pain in either one or both nipples. Breast pain in relation to one’s cycle is often referred to as ‘cyclical mastalgia’ and it affects individuals differently depending on their levels of oestrogen and progesterone and how their breasts react to the changes – as with the nipples, some women may experience pain in one breast more than another.
There are a few treatments for those for whom the cyclical pain is most intense and debilitating. According to the NHS, you could try taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, or rubbing painkilling gel on your breasts. If it's really severe, book an appointment with your GP, who might be able to offer you other medication.
Dr Shree Datta, a gynaecologist with women's intimate health brand Intimina, told WH: 'Nipples are a sensitive part of our bodies, and there are lots of reasons why they can feel sore, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. It's not unusual to experience some breast tenderness or soreness in the second half.'
It's also possible that your hormonal contraceptive pills could cause breast sensitivities. If you think this might be something to do with your discomfort, again, discuss this with your GP.
2. You're pregnant
Yep, could be. 'If you are pregnant, it's not unusual to experience some breast tenderness – in fact, it can be an early indicator that you're pregnant,' details Dr Datta.
3. You're breastfeeding
Anyone who has or is currently breastfeeding will know that it can leave your nipples cracked, dry and painful, but the good news is there’s several ways to ease the pain.
According to the NHS, heightened nipple pain during breastfeeding is 'usually because your baby's not positioned and attached properly at the breast.' Getting some help from your midwife or the NCT repositioning your little one can make a big difference, because if the baby is poorly attached to the breast, the nipple is nearer the front of their mouth and can be pinched against the hard palate, causing pain.
If you’re breastfeeding, Dr Gatta encourages you to: 'take a look at whether your baby is teething or if you're developing mastitis.'
There are numerous products out there to help with nipple soreness, but Motherlove Nipple Cream was designed specifically with new mums in mind. Changing nipple pads after every feed is also recommended by the NHS, and ideally they won’t have plastic backing.
4. Your clothes are irritating you
For lots of people, a simple change in outfit can combat nipple discomfort. That’s because for many people the soreness is down to ill-fitting bras or too-tight clothing. It may seem obvious, but wearing certain fabrics without a bra, for example, can cause uncomfortable chafing and dryness that could be remedied by a protective layer or a different type of material.
Every individual will experience fabrics differently and it’s really just a case of working out what does and doesn’t work for you. If you do this, however, and it doesn’t help, then one of the below causes may better explain what you’re experiencing.
5. You have an infection
Due to breaches in the dermis where the common bacteria Staphylococcus aureus can get in, sore and cracked nipples can lead to breast infection and further pain. Mastitis, an infection in which the breast becomes painful, hot and red, is most common in people who are breastfeeding but can also affects those who aren’t (and, sometimes, men.)
It can cause nipple discharge, redness and soreness of the breast and sometimes flu-like symptoms. The NHS suggests soaking a cloth in warm water and pressing it on the breast like a compress and massaging the breast to ease any blockages. You may also be prescribed antibiotics, to clear up this issue.
6. You have a skin condition
Psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema, as well as other skin conditions, may very well be what’s causing your nipple pain. When it comes to eczema and psoriasis, however, being aware of Paget’s disease is vital because it presents in similar ways. More on that, below.
7. You have Paget’s disease of the nipple
This is very unusual, but it pays to be aware of the signs. Paget's disease of the nipple, also known as Paget's disease of the breast, is a rare condition associated with breast cancer and causes eczema-like changes to nipple skin. It's usually a sign of breast cancer in the tissue behind the nipple and about 1 to 4% of women with breast cancer have Paget's disease of the nipple. The key tell-tale sign of Paget’s disease is when the nipple looks scaly, but you should still visit your GP if you’ve redness and discomfort around the nipple area without scaliness.
What can I do to ease the pain?
There are several over the counter remedies you could try, for example hydrocortisone to ease itchiness and irritability. Nipple creams, too, are available online, but there are lots of them so make sure you read the reviews to ensure you find the right one for you. According to Mumsnet users, Lansinoh HPA is number one, and it tops the Amazon bestseller chart for nipple creams.
The risk of more serious conditions, such as Paget’s disease, can be heightened by high alcohol consumption and obesity, so lifestyle changes can also make a huge difference.
'Treatment really depends on the cause,' explains Dr Datta. 'For example, mastitis can be treated with antibiotics. Look at the type of bra you are wearing and make sure it's suitable for what you are doing. If you are on the contraceptive pill, your gynaecologist may consider changing you to a different type if this is bothering you significantly. If you're getting discharge from your nipples, your doctor may request blood tests to check your hormone levels.'
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