Nipple pain can come from several different causes, but most are not serious. Most commonly, nipple pain comes from some sort of trauma to the nipple, and sometimes that trauma can be subtle and tricky to recognize. The most important way to identify a cause of nipple pain is to consider what you were doing right before the pain started. Some will be obvious causes, others will not.
Nipple pain can be divided into traumatic—pain from an injury—and nontraumatic pain. Traumatic pain causes are easier to identify and to treat, and are not dangerous. Nontraumatic nipple pain is also very unlikely to be significantly dangerous.
All of the most common causes of nipple pain are non-life-threatening, although some do benefit from being treated by a doctor.
Jogger’s nipple is a friction burn that comes from clothing rubbing on the nipples. It’s very common in runners, especially new runners.3 Usually, it affects both nipples and the irritation can get pretty raw. In the worst cases, the nipples can bleed. This can affect both men and women. The treatment is to keep the nipples covered and moist, like a burn—time will heal this one.
For women, the right sports bra will often help avoid future nipple irritation.4 Sorry, gentlemen. The good news is that most seasoned runners don’t complain of this type of nipple pain, so the best all-around thing to do is to keep running.
Friction burns can lead to nipple pain even when there was no running involved, and mostly come from ill-fitting bras. Try different undergarments to prevent the irritation. Moisturizer and time will heal those nipples. For any kind of friction burn, either one or both nipples can be affected.
Mastitis is an infection of the mammary ducts and can be a cause of nipple pain or of more general breast pain. The nipples can become infected from other skin infections as well, especially if they are already irritated or chapped.Yeast infections are also fairly common in the nipples, especially for women who are breastfeeding.
Premenstrual nipple pain or nipple soreness during pregnancy is very common. Usually, fluid shifts in mammary ducts cause swelling, which then causes nipple pain and can also cause more generalized breast soreness. Hormonal nipple pain is completely normal.
Just like friction and breastfeeding, nipple play during sex can lead to irritation and nipple pain. Usually, this problem only lasts for a short duration and will likely go away with a little time to heal. Again, moisturizer is helpful during the healing process.
Breastfeeding is a well-known cause of nipple pain. The same chapped, irritated, painful, and sometimes bleeding nipples that come with friction burns can also happen with both breastfeeding and expressing (pumping). The right technique can help avoid the irritation.
Atopic dermatitis is also known as eczema, a condition that leads to flaky, itchy skin.8 Atopic dermatitis can affect the nipples as well as the breasts. It’s relatively common to find atopic dermatitis on the nipples and areolas. It can happen to one or both nipples.
Most patients that have atopic dermatitis of the nipple also have atopic dermatitis on other parts of their bodies. Eczema can be difficult to treat. There are some over-the-counter medications, but a trip to the doctor might be necessary for particularly stubborn cases and because, in very rare cases, it could end up being Paget’s disease (see below). Atopic dermatitis that only affects the areola has no chance of being Paget’s disease.9 The nipple must be involved.
Some people develop allergies to soaps, laundry detergents, conditioners, or lotions that end up causing a rash, redness, or itching.10 Nipples are often the first to get irritated by new allergies and the first sign could be nipple pain.
Sunburns can happen, especially for nipples that don’t often see the light of day. This is a potential for both sexes when going topless. Don’t forget the sunscreen.