Nipple pain is one of the most feared symptoms forth breast pain. The very word elicits thoughts and worries about extreme causes, from an infection to disease and, let’s face it, most of us have at least once wondered, reluctantly so, if the random pain in the breast is breast cancer.
The good news is nipple pain, though it is one of the symptoms in breast cancer, does not point to such condition until it is associated with lumps, discharge and other unusual symptoms. In fact, it is one of the most common symptoms of a detergent allergy or the ill effects of using a sports bra for long.
Nipple pain causes
If you are on or near your period, your hormones may be the culprit behind nipple pain. Fluctuations in the levels of estrogen and progesterone near the menstrual cycle cause tenderness and swelling in your breasts and nipples which then causes pain. This type of pain is mainly experienced by teenagers, though, adult women may also suffer from nipple pain right before their period. If you are aware of your monthly cycle changes, you may actually be able to predict this pain.
Loose fitting clothes
You may be a lover of loose-fitting T-shirts, tops or innerwear, but they are definitely not friendly to your nipples. Such clothes constantly rub against your skin, leaving it sore, cracked and painful. In fact, Jogger’s nipples is a common condition found in regular runners and is marked by chaffing, soreness, redness and irritation in the nipples.
Nursing mothers often complaint about sore and tender nipples, especially in the first few weeks of delivery. A lot of women opt out of breastfeeding to avoid this condition. However, it is best to understand the cause of your pain instead of depriving the newborn from their first dose of immunity.
According to a study published in ‘Breastfeeding Medicine’, nipple pain in lactating mothers may be caused due to poor positioning of the baby, poor latching or a tongue tie. Poor latching or improper positioning of the baby can also cause nipple vasospasm, which is pain caused in the nipples due to a reduction in blood supply. Furthermore, the excessive vacuum caused by some newborns is a major cause of nipple pain in nursing mothers. Additionally, women who undergo a C-section report more nipple pain.
Mastitis is a condition marked by swollen and tender breasts and is most commonly experienced by breastfeeding women. It is caused by clogging of the breast ducts with milk due to poor or infrequent breastfeeding or avoidance of breastfeeding. Milk accumulation may also cause a white discharge to leak from the nipples along with blood. To avoid this condition, it is important that you don’t skip feeding your baby. Though it is most commonly seen in lactating women, mastitis can also affect non-breastfeeding women. In such cases, the cause of pain is an infection, though, such infections are associated with other symptoms like fever, swelling and redness in breasts and chills.
If you have already ruled out baby positioning and you are breastfeeding regularly, thrush could be the cause of your nipple pain. Thrush is a fungal infection that is caused by the growth of the yeast Candida albicans. The pain in such condition could either be mild or intense. White rashes and flakiness on nipples is yet another sign of thrush. If you notice any of these signs, it is advisable that you talk to your doctor and get immediate treatment.
Breast cancer is one of the much-feared causes of nipple and breast pain. However, the chances of its occurrence are rarer than the other causes. Undoubtedly, breast cancer risk increases with age but more often than not it is the hormonal changes that cause all the fuss.
Your nipple and breast pain may be caused by cancer or a tumour only if you experience other associated signs like breast lumps, changes in the colour of nipples, nipple inversion, yellowish or bloody discharge from your nipples. If you notice any of the additional signs, check in with your doctor immediately. Also, in case of prolonged pain, it is advisable to visit your doctor.
Paget’s disease is a type of cancer affecting nipples and areola (dark skin around nipples) and it is found in about 1-4% of breast cancer cases. Paget’s disease mostly affects women, however, it may also develop in men. Its symptoms are somewhere in between skin infections and breast cancer and mainly include swelling or itching in the nipple and areola, flattened or inwardly turned nipples, dry or crusty areola, and yellow or bloody discharge from the nipples.
Home remedies for nipple pain
Aloe vera gel could be very effective in reducing nipple pain. It has cooling properties and is also an emollient (soothes and moisturises the skin), which provides instant relief. Just apply a thin and even layer over the affected region and let it sit for a few minutes. Clean it with lukewarm water and apply some olive oil over it.
Calendula and basil may also help in reducing chafing and in soothing nipple pain. Both these herbs have antibacterial properties, which would assist in preventing infections. You can buy calendula balm or make a paste with calendula, basil and some olive oil, to be applied to the affected regions.
Washing your nipples with salt water or apple cider vinegar right after breastfeeding may protect you from infections. Dab either of the solutions onto a cotton pad and gently wipe your nipples clean. Don’t forget to wash them with lukewarm water later and oiling with coconut or olive oil.
Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil is an efficient moisturiser and is much safer to use than most herbs. You can massage some coconut oil onto the nipples or heat it up a bit to add that extra warmth to your sore nipples.
Essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and chamomile are very useful for reducing nipple pain and soreness. They exhibit antimicrobial properties, which may be effective in reducing the risk of thrush and nipple infections. Always ensure that you buy good quality essential oils from a trusted supplier or brand and never put any essential oil directly to your skin. Instead, mix 1-2 drops of the essential oil of your choice in a good carrier oil like coconut oil or olive oil and use the mixture for massage.