Sore Nipples: 16 Reasons for Sensitive, Tender or Painful Nipples

Sore Nipples: 16 Reasons Why Your Nipples Hurt and What to Do About It
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Experiencing the discomfort of sore nipples from time to time is an annoyance that most women have to put up with. Nipple pain can be caused from something as simple as chaffing or allergies to clothing, or it could be caused by an infection. Changes during the menstrual cycle can also cause nipples to become sensitive, tender, or hurt more than usual. Very often pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding complain that their nipples become very sore.

Unfortunately, painful nipples can also be accompanied with other symptoms that can add to your discomfort. Infections in the glands around the nipples can result in some discharge, or the area around the nipple can become dry and cracked. In some cases, you could have some nipple itching, tenderness, or notice that your nipples are red and swollen.

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Most of the time, sore nipples are not a sign of anything serious, and are more of an irritation. Some home remedies to help alleviate the pain and discomfort of sore nipples include cold or warm compress, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, or tea tree oil. In rare occasions, sore nipples with some unexplained discharge could indicate a more serious condition that needs attention by a doctor.

In the article, you will find out the many reasons why your nipples hurt and what you can do to about it.

Symptoms of Sore Nipples

Nipple problems can also affect men; however more women suffer from sore and painful nipples. Nipples constantly rubbing against clothing can cause friction or allergic reactions and be a reason why nipples in both men and women become sore. There may also be some redness and signs of irritation around the nipple.

According to doctors from WebMD, soreness, bleeding, and itching can accompany many causes of nipple pain. Sometimes hormonal changes can cause the nipple to feel tender and more sensitive and the areolas to be larger. You may also feel a tingling sensation in the nipple or the surrounding area.1

16 Reasons Why You Have Tender, Sensitive or Sore Nipples

Let’s look in more detail at the most common reasons why you might be experiencing nipple pain.

1. Friction

Friction is a common reason why men and women can have sore and sensitive nipples. Very often sore nipples caused by friction is called “jogger’s nipple.”

The journal Sports Medicine reported that nipple soreness caused by running, exercising, or taking part in other sports is common among athletes. This can happen if you wear a sports bra that doesn’t fit properly, or synthetic fabrics rub against your nipples.2

Doctors from WebMD say that constant rubbing against the nipple can also cause signs of irritation, dry nipples, and even bleeding.1

You can avoid getting sore nipples from jogging or working out if you wear the appropriate clothing made from natural materials. If your nipple is damaged and sore, you could try using nipple shields or applying a barrier cream to prevent nipple infections.

2. Menstrual cycle

Hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle affects your breasts and is often a reason for nipples hurting right before your period.

According to OB/GYN Dr. Traci Johnson, symptoms of painful and sore breasts are usually more noticeable just before your period. You may find that your breasts and nipples are more sensitive or tender than usual. The breast and nipple soreness should only last a few days into your period. If you notice any unusual discharge, you should speak to your doctor.3

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If you are affected by other symptoms of PMS, then you can try some of these 12 helpful natural ways to relieve PMS. There you can find out how magnesium and vitamin B6 can help to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. You can also relieve menstrual cramps with these natural ways.

3. Allergies

Your nipples are very sensitive and can have an allergic reaction to soaps, fabrics, or other allergens. If you have noticed that your nipples are tender and itching after you changed your laundry detergent, soap, or moisturizer, the nipple discomfort could be from allergies. In this case, identifying and removing the allergen should solve the problem.

4. Pregnancy

Breast sensitivity and soreness can happen if you become pregnant, and the nipple tenderness can increase during your pregnancy.

Doctors from the American Pregnancy Association report that hormonal changes cause your breasts to become more sensitive, and this is often felt particularly in the nipples. Other breast changes during pregnancy include darkening of the area around your nipples, and your nipple may stick out more and become larger.4

Some other signs of early pregnancy include cramping when implantation happens, a missed period, nausea and vomiting, increased Montgomery glands, and an increase in cervical discharge. If you think you are pregnant, you can find out here when is the earliest time to take a pregnancy test.

5. Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can cause the breast tissue to become sensitive and sore and cause persistent nipple pain.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that many breastfeeding mothers complain of sore and tender nipples. This was a reason why almost 40% of women discontinued breastfeeding. Some of the reasons for nipple pain while breastfeeding are incorrectly placing the baby, infection, and inflammation.5

To help avoid sore and painful nipples while breastfeeding, the Journal de Pediatria reported that proper breastfeeding technique is essential. The nipples should be kept dry and you should use nursing pads.6

Nipple infections that cause pain during breastfeeding are also common. Bacterial infections or candidiasis can cause more nipple problems. This could result in breast and nipple itching, redness, and burning twinges in the breasts. Other complications to the nipples or breasts during breastfeeding could be inflammation or plugged nipple ducts.6

6. Mastitis

Mastitis can also cause the breasts and nipples to become red, tender, and sore due to infection in the breast tissue.

Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Suzanne Trupin says that mastitis often affects breastfeeding mothers. However, breast inflammation can occur in other women and post-menopausal women. The signs of mastitis are redness around the nipple spreading up the breast, fever and chills, and warmth of the breast.7

If you have signs of mastitis, you should see your doctor to get the right treatment to resolve the infection.

7. Inflammation of the nipples

Inflammation of the breasts, that may or may not be caused by an infection, can cause nipple tenderness and nipple pain.

According to a report published in the journal Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging, breast inflammation can be caused by mastitis, an abscess, or other infection. Depending on the cause of the inflammation, there may be nipple discharge, pain and swelling, and lesions on the areola.8

8. Vasospasm

Nipple vasospasm can be a reason for painful nipple spasms that last for a few minutes or many hours.

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According to doctors from the Herzl Family Practice Clinic, emotional stress, exposure to cold temperatures, or breastfeeding can cause nipple vasospasm. The pain in the nipple is caused as blood vessels contract. This results in throbbing and needle-like pains in the nipple. You also may notice that the nipple pain increases in the cold.9

If you suffer from chronic burning pain in your nipples, you should seek medical advice. However, doctors say that very often, a warm compress is enough to help relieve the pain.

9. Raynaud’s syndrome

Raynaud’s syndrome can be a reason for deep nipple pain in women who breastfeed.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that Raynaud’s syndrome in an autoimmune condition that results in constricted blood vessels in certain areas of the body. It can cause numbness in the fingers or toes, nose, lips, and even nipples. The affected body part, for example, the nipple, usually becomes sore as it warms up and blood flows to the nipple.10

The journal JAMA Dermatology reported that Raynaud’s syndrome of the nipple is sometimes a complication of breastfeeding, mastitis, or Candida infection.11

10. Nipple thrush

A candida infection of the nipple can cause nipple thrush and can make nipples sore and sensitive when breastfeeding

Cracked and dry nipples are often to blame for candida infections getting into the nipples. Doctors from the National Health Service say that candida fungus can affect both of your nipples and also your baby’s mouth. You may feel that the nipples are painful to touch or very tender after feeding. The nipple pain can be extreme and last for a few hours.12

11. Abscess in the breast

Pain in just one nipple that is sore to touch could be caused by an abscess in the breast.

According to the journal Radio Graphics, breast abscesses that cause nipple pain are usually associated with some redness and heat around the affected area. Very rarely is a fever associated with a breast abscess. A breast abscess can also be a reason for nipple pain in men.13

Because any lump in the breast could be something more serious, you should have any new breast lumps checked out by a qualified doctor.

12. Eczema

If you are suffering from tender and sore nipples that are cracked, it could be a sign of nipple eczema or dermatitis.

Eczema or various forms of dermatitis can cause red rashes that are sore, itchy, and may have blisters. Some forms of dermatitis are caused by irritants that affect the skin. Because the nipple is especially sensitive area, it is prone to getting irritated.

For example, the journal BMC Dermatology described a condition called “guitar nipple.” This is caused by constant rubbing of the musical instrument against the nipple area.14 Also, dermatitis is a common reason for nipple pain in breastfeeding mothers.5

To avoid outbreaks of eczema on your breast that cause your nipple to hurt and feel extremely sore, you should try to identify the source of the irritant. It is also good to avoid harsh soaps and keep your nipples well-moisturized.

14. Nipple piercing

Nipple piercing will cause sore nipples for a week or so after the piercing. However secondary bacterial wounds in the piercing wound could cause swollen nipples that are painful and ooze pus.

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Nipple piercing can also cause other complications. The Journal of the American College of Surgeons reported that nipple piercings can cause breast abscesses. These are difficult to treat and cause very painful nipples. Sometimes, the breast abscess can appear as late as seven years after the piercing.15

Another reason that nipple piercing can cause excruciating nipple pain on your right or left nipple is if the jewelry tears. The American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reported that piercings in the nipple are especially prone to tearing.16

15. Paget’s disease of the nipple

Paget’s disease is a rare type of cancer that can affect the nipple and cause burning nipple pain as the disease progresses.

Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Nivin Todd says that the early signs of Paget’s disease are mild itching around the nipple. In time, the itching can become more severe and the nipple can be sore to touch. There may be some signs of bloody discharge from the nipple.17

16. Breast cancer

In rare cases, nipple pain and discharge can be a sign of breast cancer.

According to the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, not all breast cancer lumps cause pain. However, you should always have lumps in your breast checked out if they are painful or not. Doctors say that if you notice changes in your nipples like dimpling, rashes over the nipple, or change in nipple shape, you should visit your doctor.18  

What to Do When Your Nipples Hurt

Thankfully, most cases of sore and sensitive nipples can be easily resolved. There are many effective home remedies to help reduce nipple pain and tenderness as well as treat other symptoms like itching. Here are some of the best.

Cold or warm compress

You can use a cold or warm compress to help reduce nipple pain and ease the discomfort that it causes.

Doctors from WebMD say that ice packs or warm compresses can do much to ease pain from sore nipples.1

How to make a warm or cold compress to soothe sore nipples:

For this method, you can use old chamomile tea bags. Chamomile tea has healing qualities and studies have shown that it can reduce inflammation, itching, inflammatory pain, and soreness.23 It is up to you if you want to use warm chamomile tea bags to relieve nipple pain or cold tea bags.

This is what you should do:

  1. Put one or 2 chamomile tea bags in a cup of hot water.
  2. Cover and leave to infuse for a couple of minutes.
  3. If using a warm compress to ease sore nipples, let the bags cool until they are not too hot to place on your nipples.
  4. If using a cold compress for nipple pain, put the tea bags in the refrigerator until cold.
  5. Place the warm or cold compress on your painful nipples for 15-20 minutes to reduce the pain and discomfort.

Aloe vera

Another way to treat painful and irritated nipple is to use the healing power of aloe vera. Aloe vera contains many vitamins and nutrients that nourish damaged skin and address the causes of irritation.

The Indian Journal of Dermatology published a review on the effect of aloe vera on the skin. In the review, it found that aloe vera has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to heal wounds, treat dermatitis, get rid of fungal and bacterial skin infections, and moisturize the skin.25

How to use:

Use aloe vera gel on your sore nipples by applying it this way:

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  1. Buy aloe vera gel with as few added ingredients as possible or extract the gel from an aloe vera leaf.
  2. Massage the gel into the painful nipple using gentle circular motions.
  3. Use 2-3 times a day and allow the aloe vera to dry.
  4. Continue using on the sore nipple until the pain has stopped.

Apple cider vinegar

Raw unprocessed apple cider vinegar (ACV) can help to soothe sore nipples and stop them from itching. The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar helps to reduce the pH levels on the skin.

Apple cider vinegar is also antiseptic and astringent that can help to stop infections. According to information published in the journal Wounds, acetic acid (of which apple cider vinegar has high levels) can help to kill off various strains of bacteria in wounds.19  

How to use apple cider vinegar to reduce nipple pain:

If the reason for your sore nipple is due to eczema, dermatitis, friction, nipple thrush, or a nipple piercing, you can apply apple cider vinegar to treat the pain and itching. This is what you should do:

  1. Dilute apple cider vinegar with equal quantities of water (never use undiluted ACV).
  2. Dip a cotton ball or pad in the ACV remedy and hold on your sore nipple for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Let the remedy dry.
  4. Repeat 2-3 times a day until the pain around your nipple has gone.

The ACV remedy may sting at first, but that is normal. At the start, you could add some more water to the remedy until your breast nipple gets used to the apple cider vinegar.

After applying the apple cider vinegar to your nipple, you should moisturize it with virgin coconut oil.

Coconut oil

Virgin coconut oil can help to moisturize your nipple and soothe the pain of a sore dry nipple.

Coconut oil also contains antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties that are great for sensitive areas of your body like your nipples. Coconut oil is also used in many natural remedies for candida infections.

For example, studies into the healing properties of coconut oil have found that it is effective against various strains of bacteria. Two studies from 2010 found that a topical application of coconut oil can help to heal damaged skin. Coconut oil also has an analgesic effect and can help to reduce skin inflammation.20, 21

How to use coconut oil for painful nipples:

Because coconut oil is in a solid state at room temperature, it is very easy to apply it to your nipples and moisturize and nourish them. This is what you should do:

  1. Rub coconut oil between your hands and apply a small amount to your sore nipple. Gently massage until the oil is fully absorbed.
  2. Repeat 2-3 times a day to soothe cracked nipple and prevent any infections.

Tea tree oil and coconut oil

You can add some tea tree oil to coconut oil to make a healing salve for sore cracked nipples if you have a bacterial or fungal nipple infection.

According to a study in the journal Pharmaceutica Analytica Acta, tea tree oil is effective against many microbes. Topical applications of tea tree oil can kill off many strains of bacteria and fungus.22

How to use tea tree oil for sore nipples:

Here is how to make a healing ointment to get rid of conditions that cause nipple pain.

  1. Mix 2-3 drop of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of coconut oil and store in a small glass jar.
  2. Apply 2-3 times a day the tea tree oil remedy to your sore nipple.
  3. Continue using the natural antimicrobial salve on your painful nipple until all the symptoms have gone for good.

When to See a Doctor for Sore Nipples

Thankfully, most cases of sore and tender nipples resolve themselves with the help of home remedies. However, in some cases, you should see a doctor for painful nipples.

According to doctors from the Cleveland Clinic, you should visit a doctor in the following circumstances:24

  • You notice changes to the one or both nipples or the areola.
  • You have nipple discharge that is bloody and from only one side.
  • Any other breast symptoms like new lumps in your breast or underarm.

Read my other related articles:

Medical References

  1. WebMD. Why do my nipples hurt?
  2. Sports Med.1990 Feb;9(2):100-19.
  3. WebMD. How your breasts change during your monthly cycle.
  4. AmericanPregnancy. Breast changes during pregnancy.
  5. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Oct; 12(10): 12247–12263.
  6. Pediatr. (Rio J.) vol.80 no.5 suppl. Porto Alegre Nov. 2004
  7. eMedicineHealth. Breast infection.
  8. Diag Interventional Imag. 2012 Feb;93(2): 78-84.
  9. JGH. Nipple vasospasm.
  10. MayoClinic. Raynaud’s disease.
  11. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(3):300-306.
  12. NHS. Breastfeeding and thrush.
  13. RadioGraphics. 2011 Oct;31(6).
  14. BMC Dermatol. 2004; 4: 3.
  15. ScienceDaily. Smoking, nipple piercing are risk factors for breast abscesses.
  16. Am J Clin Derm. 2012 Feb;13(1): 1-17.
  17. WebMD. Breast cancer and Paget’s disease.
  18. Int J Prev Med. 2012 Nov; 3(11): 810–814.
  19. Wounds. 15(5):149-166, 2003.
  20. Skin Pharmacol Physiol.2010;23(6):290-7.
  21. Pharm Biol.2010 Feb;48(2):151-7.
  22. Pharm Anal Acta. 2016, 7:11
  23. Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895–901.
  24. ClevelandClinic. When should I call my doctor about breast symptoms?
  25. Indian J Dermatol. 2008; 53(4): 163–166.
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