An itchy breast or nipple can seem like an embarrassing problem, but it happens to many people in their lifetime. There are several causes of an itchy breast or nipple, from skin irritation to rarer and more alarming causes, such as breast cancer.

Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of an itchy breast or nipple. This type of dermatitis is also called eczema, which is an inflammation of the skin. While its cause is unknown, atopic dermatitis can cause dry skin, itching, and rash.

Certain factors can worsen an itchy breast or nipple, including:

  • artificial fibers
  • cleaners
  • perfumes
  • soaps
  • wool fibers

Dry skin can also cause your breasts or nipples to itch.

Pregnancy increases the likelihood for breast and nipple itching. The breasts typically enlarge during pregnancy. Stretching skin can lead to itching and flaking.

Mastitis, a breast tissue infection, can also cause breast and nipple itching. This condition most commonly affects new mothers who are breast-feeding. Breast-feeding mothers may experience a blocked milk duct or bacterial exposure, leading to mastitis. Additional symptoms of mastitis include:

  • breast tenderness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • pain or burning when breast-feeding

Rarely, an itchy breast or nipple can be the symptom of a more serious medical condition. Paget disease of the breast, a rare form of cancer, causes breast and nipple itching. This type of cancer specifically affects the nipple, although a cancerous tumor is often found in the breast as well. Early Paget disease symptoms can mimic atopic dermatitis or eczema. Other symptoms include:

  • a flattened nipple
  • redness
  • a lump in the breast
  • discharge from the nipple
  • skin changes on the nipple or breast

Breast itching and warmth can be signs of breast cancer as well, especially inflammatory breast cancer. Changes to the texture of your breast can also be cause for concern.

An itchy breast or nipple causes the urge to scratch at your skin. The discomfort can range from mild to severe, and may be an occasional or constant urge. Scratching can cause the delicate skin to become red, swollen, cracked, or thickened. While scratching may temporarily relieve the urge, it can also damage the skin.

If your itchy breast or nipple doesn’t go away after a few days, or if it seems to worsen, make an appointment to see your doctor.

You should see your doctor right away if you experience:

  • bloody, yellow, or brown drainage
  • inverted nipple
  • painful breasts
  • skin changes that make your breast resemble an orange peel
  • thickened breast tissue

If you’re breast-feeding and you experience extreme pain or other mastitis symptoms, seek medical help.

Mastitis is treated with antibiotics. Make sure to take the full treatment course to prevent the infection from coming back. Other steps that can also help reduce mastitis symptoms include:

  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • resting

Paget disease and breast cancer are treated with a variety of approaches. These include:

  • surgical removal of all or a portion of the breast
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation

Chemotherapy and radiation both work to kill or shrink cancerous cells.

How do I care for an itchy breast or nipple?

Treatments for itchy breast or nipple depend upon the cause. Most symptoms should resolve with over-the-counter treatments, including adopting a skin care routine that includes washing your skin with a mild soap and lukewarm water.

A skin cream that does not contain perfumes or dyes may ease symptoms. Topical applications of corticosteroids may also reduce inflammation. Avoiding allergenic substances can also put a stop to your itching.

Proper and careful skin care can prevent itchy breast or nipple due to atopic dermatitis. Other causes of itchiness, including cancers, often cannot be prevented.

Mastitis prevention includes allowing your breasts to fully drain of milk while breast-feeding. Other preventive steps include:

  • alternating the breast you first offer during feedings
  • alternating the position you use to breast-feed your baby
  • ensuring your baby empties one breast before using the other for breast-feeding
  • seeking the advice of a lactation consultant to achieve a better latch