5 Possible Sources of Nipple Sensitivity

You begin to notice tenderness or discomfort in your nipples when exercising or putting on a bra. While many women experience sensitive nipples and breasts associated with the menstrual cycle, prolonged soreness could signify a health concern that needs attention. These are the most common conditions that may present with sensitive nipples.

Skin Concerns

Sometimes a skin rash affecting the breasts can lead to sensitivity, pain or swelling. Dermatitis is a common condition resulting from irritant or allergen exposure and usually resolves with home treatment. You might experience dermatitis if you try a new laundry detergent, soap or similar product. 

A form of dermatitis called eczema has a genetic component and causes dry skin that can affect nipple sensation. Athletes, especially runners, may experience chafing that causes nipple sensitivity. Try protecting breasts with a sports bra or specially designed adhesive tape. 

See your doctor if you have a rash that does not improve when you end exposure to the irritant and use over-the-counter topical treatment.

Local Infection

Bacteria and other organisms can potentially affect the nipples and surrounding skin. Most commonly, breastfeeding women who develop cracks or abrasions of the nipples become infected with thrush, caused by the same organism responsible for vaginal yeast infections. Thrush causes stinging, burning, redness and sensitive skin in the affected area.

If you are breastfeeding and experience pain when your infant latches or feeds, he or she could have an improper latch that increases the risk of infection. A lactation consultant can help resolve these concerns so you and your baby stay healthy. 

Left untreated, thrush can lead to a more serious infection such as mastitis, which affects the milk ducts. Seek immediate medical attention if you have nipple pain or sensitivity along with a fever of 101 degrees or higher, chills, or warm, red, or swollen breasts. While mastitis can be quite painful it usually resolves quickly with antibiotic treatment and a doctor's care. 

Pregnancy

Nipple sensitivity is one of the most common signs of early pregnancy.  Women who are pregnant may also notice their breasts feel heavy and full. If you experience these symptoms and you have had unprotected sex, consider taking a pregnancy test. Other signs of conception include frequent urination, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting and missed menstrual periods.

Hormone Changes

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, hormone variance associated with pregnancy, the menstrual cycle or menopause is the most common reason for nipple soreness. Rising estrogen and progesterone prior to the first day of your period cause the breasts to feel full, swollen and sensitive. These symptoms typically abate after menstruation begins. 

Certain medications that contain estrogen and other hormones can cause tender breasts and sensitive nipples. You may notice this symptom if you take oral contraceptive (birth control) pills or undergo hormone replacement therapy. Let your doctor know about the side effects you experience. He or she may prescribe an alternative treatment.

Cancer

In very rare cases, breast cancer may cause nipple pain. For example, a form of cancer called Paget's disease manifests with this symptom as well as itching, stinging, discharge and inversion of the nipple area. Seek medical attention if you experience sensitivity or pain that affects only one nipple, particularly if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer. 

Talk to your health care provider if sensitive nipples occur outside of your menstrual cycle. He or she can determine the cause of this issue and recommend a treatment plan. Many women find they can reduce nipple sensitivity by decreasing caffeine intake, limiting dietary sodium, using cooling gel packs during PMS, and making other healthy lifestyle changes.