Nipple Pain: 9 Causes in Men and Women

The main cause of nipple pain is usually friction, but it can also be due to more serious pathologies such as some infections.
Nipple Pain: 9 Causes in Men and Women
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 03 October, 2022

The breast area is a very sensitive region in both men and women, especially the area near the nipple. For this reason, nipple pain can be a very uncomfortable symptom for any person. The causes of this condition are many and varied and we’ll tell you all about them here.

Nipple pain is a very variable symptom, so the intensity and duration will depend on each person. In general, it’s perceived as discomfort or increased sensitivity. Moreover, the pain disappears on its own after 3 or 4 days in most cases, without the need for specific treatment.

9 possible causes of nipple pain

A couple having sex.
Some people may suffer from sore nipples due to friction caused by sexual intercourse.

The causes of this symptom are very varied and can range from simple friction to a serious pathology such as Paget’s disease. Fortunately, most of the causes are benign, and there’s no need to be alarmed. Some of the main causes are as follows.

1. Friction

The most common cause of nipple pain in both men and women is friction. Friction with clothing usually occurs during strenuous physical activity. The movements cause the clothing to rub against the nipple and irritation occurs.

This pain can also occur from wearing an ill-fitting bra or from rubbing between bodies during sexual intercourse. People often report a sharp, stabbing pain due to irritation. In addition, the skin may be dry or cracked.

Ideally, the material that caused the irritation should be avoided. It’s also possible to place a strip of tape on the nipple when exercising to minimize chafing. People who suffer a crack or wound as a result of friction should wash the area and apply a healing cream.

2. Hormonal changes

Women undergo constant hormonal changes throughout their menstrual cycle. Increased progesterone and estrogen in the days leading up to menstruation affect the mammary glands and can cause nipple pain. The hormones cause fluid to accumulate in the breasts, thus increasing their sensitivity.

Nipple discomfort appears in the days prior to menstruation and then disappears on its own with the arrival of menstruation. Although the symptom is self-limiting, cold compresses can be applied to the area to reduce swelling. If the pain doesn’t go away after a few days, it will be necessary to see a doctor.

3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy is another common cause of nipple pain in women. The mother’s breasts increase in size, especially in the last trimester, in order to produce breast milk. This growth will cause distension of the skin and, with it, multiple symptoms such as pain and itching.

The breasts may also undergo other changes during pregnancy that are important to know about. The areolas often darken, small lumps appear, and there’s increased sensitivity throughout the breast.

While there isn’t much that can be done to relieve the pain in this case, ice packs are a great help. In addition, women should apply a moisturizer at least twice a day if they want to prevent stretch marks from appearing.

4. Breastfeeding

A baby breastfeeding.
A poor breastfeeding position is one of the most common causes of nipple pain in women.

Breastfeeding can be a truly beautiful process to form the bond between mother and child. However, breastfeeding can cause nipple pain when it isn’t carried out with the proper technique according to different studies. This fact is more common during the first months, when the baby’s small mouth isn’t able to grasp the nipple correctly and this creates friction with the gums.

On the other hand, pain can also appear when the child starts teething, as this can change the way in which the nipple is held. Both situations can cause cracking and even bleeding. Another possible cause of pain at this stage is the use of a breast pump with a very small cup.

If you have nipple pain during breastfeeding, the best option is always to consult a lactation specialist. He/she will be able to give you the best breastfeeding techniques to avoid this symptom.

5. Allergies

As we have already mentioned, the nipples are one of the body’s most sensitive areas, and this makes them prone to damage. Chemicals in detergents, soaps, and even clothing material can cause an allergic reaction. Nipple allergy usually manifests itself through pain, itching, and redness.

Anti-inflammatory creams can help relieve symptoms in these cases. However, the best treatment will be to identify and eliminate the triggering agent. To do this, it’s necessary to use neutral soaps, wash the area with warm water, and change the laundry detergent.

6. Eczema or atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is an exaggerated autoimmune response resulting from exposure to a particular allergen. In addition to nipple soreness, eczema occurs with symptoms similar to allergy, but with greater intensity. People may experience redness, intense itching, swollen nipples and even blisters.

The list of substances capable of triggering atopic dermatitis on the nipple is very long. The main products include shaving creams, lotions, soap, detergent, and perfumes.

The treatment of atopic dermatitis is based on the use of corticosteroid creams. However, the effects of prolonged use of these substances can be harmful to health, so they should only be used under the supervision of a dermatologist.

7. Infections

Infections in the mammary gland or the overlying skin are also a common cause of nipple soreness. Infections can range from simple folliculitis or mastitis to more serious infections such as breast candidiasis. Fortunately, the latter is a rare breast disease according to some research.

The symptoms and clinical manifestations are very varied and will depend on the severity. Redness, swelling, pain and purulent discharge are some of the most common. Sinus infections are caused by multiple microorganisms entering the body through small lesions.

Topical treatment with specific ointments is usually sufficient. However, oral antibiotics may be necessary to control the infection.

8. Trauma

Any blow to the breasts can cause nipple pain. The most frequent trauma to the area occurs during sexual contact, especially if it is done suddenly. Another frequent cause of pain is nipple piercing.

The pain caused by nipple piercings usually lasts a few weeks. During this period, it’s necessary to control it by taking painkillers and keeping the area clean to avoid infection. On the other hand, pain caused by other trauma will disappear on its own after a few days without the need for medication.

9. Paget’s disease and cancer

Ultimately, Paget’s disease and other types of breast cancer may explain the onset of pain. Paget’s disease is a malignant pathology of the breast that can manifest as a metastatic focus of a tumor.

The main symptoms that accompany breast cancer are changes in the shape of the nipple, excoriations, ulcers, orange peel, yellow or bloody discharge from the nipple. In the presence of these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a specialist as soon as possible.

Fortunately, breast cancer can be treated in many different ways including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. However, treatment can become more complicated as the disease progresses, so early consultation is always recommended.

If in doubt, consult your doctor

As you can see, most of the causes of nipple pain are benign. In this sense, the symptom should disappear on its own after a few days. However, you should always consult a specialist if the pain doesn’t subside, worsens, or is accompanied by other alarming symptoms.

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