Itchy breasts are fairly common in women. There can be many reasons for this annoyance. Most itching is harmless, but in some cases, itching breasts can indicate serious health conditions.
Causes and Remedies for Itchy Breasts
1. Dry Skin
- Symptoms. Dry skin patches appear duller or darker than surrounding skin color. Skin may also peel or flake off.
- Remedies. Use a loofah or sponge to scrub away dead skin. Dry your skin well after bathing and apply mild, moisturizing, anti-itch cream that contain 1% menthol and camphor.
2. Allergy or Environmental Irritation
Exposure to chemicals such as many laundry detergents can activate the immune system causing an allergic reaction and skin irritation. Detergents, soaps and skin care products are often the cause of unexplained rashes.
- Symptoms. Symptoms are redness, itching or a rash.
- Remedies. Moisturize skin, soak in a bath or apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve inflammation. If the itching is not connected to chemical or allergen exposure, and itching and irritation persist, consult your doctor.
Psoriasis is not a specific condition of the breast, but rather a part of an outbreak that can span the whole body.
- Symptoms. Scaly, dry patches will appear.
- Remedies. There is no cure for psoriasis, but treatment can prevent or soothe outbreaks. Avoid scratching and soak in warm baths of oatmeal, Epsom salts or moisturizing bath oil. Moisturize after bathing and seal in the moisture by covering your breasts. Anti-inflammatory lotions and creams that contain salicylic acid and hydrocortisone can help, as well oral medications.
4. Breast Eczema
Breastfeeding mothers are a higher risk because residue from breast milk can cause fungal infections. Wearing tight clothing or bras made from synthetic fabrics can cause breast eczema.
- Symptoms. Breast eczema usually occurs on the nipples and areolas. The most common symptoms are cracked and itchy nipples.
- Remedies. Wear cotton undergarments and try going braless at home. Apply moisturizer to the affected areas or use topical steroids, and always avoid scratching. Using a paste from clean, fresh ground guava leaves is a simple home remedy - these leaves have disinfectant and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Yeast Infection
Breast and nipple thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the nipple and breast area which is caused by a fungal organism called Candida albicans.
- Symptoms. Symptoms include severe burning pains, extreme tenderness in the nipple (the lightest touch causes pain), itching, rash and dwindling milk supply.
- Remedies. When breast and nipple thrush happens during breastfeeding, both mother and baby will need treatment, as the baby could develop mouth thrush.Women are treated with topical or oral anti-fungals and pain killers, and advised to keep the area clean and dry. Infants are treated with probiotics or a topical anti-fungal for the oral cavity.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that happens during breastfeeding. Bacteria enters through a break or crack in the skin, causing infection.
- Symptoms. Common symptoms are swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness in the breast, itching, chills and fever, small cuts on the nipple, and underarm tenderness.
- Remedies. Common treatments are antibiotics, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or incision and drainage in case an abscess forms. Symptoms can be managed by continuing to breastfeed, getting adequate rest, putting the baby into different nursing positions, using cold or heat compression, and gently massaging the breast.
7. Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Unlike the more common form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer will not appear as a lump in the breast tissue.
- Symptoms. Symptoms include skin changes, redness, pain, bruising that does not go away, swelling and itching, retraction of the nipple, discharge, and swelling of the lymph nodes under the arms or neck.
- Remedies. If treatments for an infection do not work after a week, request a biopsy. Inflammatory breast cancer is aggressive and can spread quickly. The treatment is chemotherapy to reduce tumor size followed by a mastectomy and radiation.
8. Paget's Disease of the Breast
A rare form of cancer, this disease usually starts on the nipple and extends into the areola. Women over 50 are most susceptible.
- Symptoms. The skin on and around the nipple becomes flaky, crusty, oozing or hardened. Other symptoms include itching, redness, burning or tingling sensations in the nipple, bloody or straw-colored discharge, an inverted nipple or a lump in the breast.
- Remedies. Treatment for Paget’s disease requires a simple mastectomy (entire breast) or a lumpectomy (diseased portion of breast tissue). Chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy may be administered post-surgery.
9. Other Causes
- Lace Bras. Typically made of synthetic fibers, lace bras are a leading cause of itchy breasts and nipples. Switch to a lace-less or soft cup bra, preferably made of cotton.
- PMS Symptom. Women will often experience itchy breasts during PMS. Any anti-itch lotions that contain an analgesic like menthol, will alleviate itching and irritation. Use lotions with a pH of 1.0 or less to avoid more irritation.
- Pregnancy. Breast size increases due to milk production during pregnancy; this can cause itching, tenderness and irritation. Try unscented lotions and body butters to soothe the skin.
- Breast Growth. As their breasts grow during puberty, many girls experience itching and discomfort. Applying moisturizers and anti-itch creams, and massaging the breasts will alleviate the itching and tenderness.
When to See a Doctor
- Itching that is sudden, severe or unusual should be evaluated by a doctor.
- Itching brought on by food allergies appears quickly and creates a strong urge to scratch. If you are suffering from this kind of itching, beware it can lead to a serious anaphylactic reaction: difficulty breathing, itching, rapid swelling, vomiting, fainting, constriction of the throat, and change in alertness. See a doctor.