Itchy Nipples? Here Are 9 Potential Causes

A quick google search for "itchy nipples" or "why does my nipple itch" can quickly send you down an anxiety-inducing medical rabbit hole. Results like "breast cancer" and "early pregnancy" may set off alarm bells in your head, but the reality is that — generally speaking — itchy nipples are nothing to be afraid of. While they aren't always talked about, itchy nipples can be triggered by everything from your new laundry detergent to your old sports bra. If you want to stop your nipples from itching altogether, it's best to identify the root cause.

To get a better sense of itchy nipple causes, we spoke to Nicole Peluso, IBCLC, manager of lactation services and education at Aeroflow Breastpumps. Beyond common causes, she also answered some pressing questions about itchy nipples while breastfeeding, itchy nipples as an early indication of pregnancy, and itchy nipples as a sign of cancer. Read on to find out what may be causing your itchy nipples, learn about some of Peluso's recommended treatments, and see what symptoms may warrant additional medical care.

Why Are My Nipples Itchy?

Although uncomfortable, some of the most common causes for itchy nipples are relatively benign. Irritation can develop due to your clothes, menstrual cycle, or even the weather. Here are a few other itchy nipple causes, according to Peluso:

The Weather Got Colder.

Changes in temperature can cause irritation, especially when the weather gets cold and dry. If your body tends to get dry in the colder months, this can trigger seasonal itching.

You Have Eczema.

Breast eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common inflammatory skin condition that leads to itchy skin around the breast. It can cause scaliness, bumpiness, discoloration, swelling and dryness, per the Cleveland Clinic. Breast eczema is most common in people with a family history of eczema or environmental allergies, but it's not contagious, and it's highly treatable.

It's Your Soap.

If you just switched to a new soap — be it your body wash or laundry detergent — there's a chance your body may be reacting to the chemicals. This can cause itching, and even lead to a type of rash called contact dermatitis.

You Have Contact Dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis describes inflammation brought on by soaps, detergents, lotions, fragrances, and other chemicals. This may manifest as an itchy rash on or around the nipple, in addition to redness, scaliness, and cracked skin.

You're Experiencing Friction.

Chafing is another major cause of itchy nipples. This kind of friction may occur while exercising, or could even be the result of an ill-fitting bra. Either way, chafing can lead to itchiness and irritation.

It Could Be Your Period.

You may notice itchy nipples right before your period due to hormonal changes, which can even cause your breasts to swell. Increased estrogen, stretching skin, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are all thought to lead to itchy nipples.

It's Menopause.

Similarly, as estrogen goes down during menopause, your body may react to the changing hormones with itchy or irritated nipples.

You Got a Sunburn.

Getting sunburned can cause plenty of skin irritation, but as you heal, you may also experience itching, irritation, and peeling around the nipples (depending on where you were sunburnt).

It's Thrush.

On the more severe side, thrush is a fungal condition caused by a candida infection. It can cause itchy nipples, but also stinging, burning, and intense pain, according to the Royal Women's Hospital.

Can Breastfeeding Cause Itchy Nipples?

Generally speaking, you shouldn't expect to have itchy nipples while breastfeeding, Peluso says. Itchy nipples while breastfeeding may be due to another underlying cause, which you can discuss with your healthcare provider. "Itching could indicate improper latch and positioning, irritants, allergens, or eczema," Peluso says. "If itchy nipples are accompanied by pain, it can also be a sign of a more serious issue such as thrush — an infection that is best identified by a lactation consultant and treated by a doctor."

Are Itchy Nipples a Sign of Pregnancy?

The short answer is that itchy nipples can occur early on in pregnancy, but it's not a sure-fire sign that you're pregnant. Peluso attributes this irritation to the expansion of the breast tissue caused by pregnancy hormones. "This can lead to tight and itchy skin," she says. Still, Peluso wouldn't recommend using itchy nipples as a "definitive sign" of pregnancy. To prevent itchy nipples during pregnancy, she suggests keeping your nipples and breasts well-moisturized.

Are Itchy Nipples a Sign of Cancer?

Rest assured that itchy nipples and breasts are not common signs of cancer. That said, there are a few rare conditions to look out for. "Paget's disease of the breast (develops in the nipple or the areola) appears as a red, scaly rash and might indicate breast cancer behind the nipple," Peluso says. Paget's disease of the breast may darken the area around the nipple (areola) and affects 1 to 4 percent of women, per the National Health Service (NHS). A biopsy or mammogram may be used to test for Paget's disease of the breast.

Aside from Paget's disease, there's another kind of breast cancer that may also cause irritation around the nipples, including itching. "Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer that can cause skin changes in the breast," Peluso says. "With this type of cancer, the breast or part of the breast can become red, inflamed, painful and swollen. It can also cause itching of the breast." If you notice any significant changes in or around your nipple, it's a good idea to contact a medical professional.

Itchy Nipple Treatments

"The best way to reduce the itching is to identify the root cause so you can get the appropriate treatment," Peluso says. "If mild, use gentle soaps and moisturizers without added colors or smells, wash your bras often (especially sports bras that have a tendency to get sweaty)." This can reduce your chances of harsh chemicals or fragrances triggering contact dermatitis. For immediate relief, Peluso also suggests applying a cool compress. "Wet a cloth with cool water, squeeze out the excess liquid and place the cloth over your nipples to soothe the area," she says. You can also try wearing loose-fitting clothes to reduce chafing, stay moisturized with non-scented lotions, or sleep with a humidifier in the winter to prevent dry, irritated skin.

When to See a Doctor

"The great news is that itchy nipples are rarely a sign of a more serious condition," Peluso says. "In general, having itchy nipples is something you can manage on your own at home. If the itch is severe and accompanied by pain, fever, chills, swelling, discharge, [you should] seek out care from a health care provider." You may also want to see a provider if your baby's mouth develops white patches (not from milk), or if itching comes within a few weeks of antibiotic treatment, both of which can be signs of thrush.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.