One of the most frequent topics we get questions about at HealthCentral is breast itching. This is not surprising because it’s a common problem, and few things are more annoying than an itch that doesn’t go away.
When to see a doctor
Itching can be a symptom of some conditions that definitely need a doctor’s attention.
- An itchy nipple, especially when accompanied by a scaly rash, may be Paget’s Disease of the breast.
- When itching is accompanied by pain, swelling, redness, and skin dimpling that looks like the skin of an orange, it may be an early symptom of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).
- Both Paget’s and IBC are rare, so that itchy breast rash is more likely to be a fungal infection, heat rash, or an allergic reaction. Encased in bras, breasts are very vulnerable to skin problems, especially in the summer heat. A doctor can diagnose what type of rash you have and suggest the appropriate cream or medicine. Using an anti-fungal cream for an allergic rash won’t work, so the proper diagnosis is essential.
- Allover body itching can be a symptom of other underlying health problems, so you’ll want to see the doctor if you itch all over.
- You will also want to call the doctor if your itching is so severe that you can’t concentrate on your daily tasks. The general rule of thumb is to call the doctor for any breast change that lasts longer than one month, but if the itching is driving you crazy, there is no reason to wait the full month to get checked out. The doctor may be able to make a quick diagnosis and give you a cream that will solve the problem.
Home remedies for itching
But suppose your only symptom is itching. There’s no rash, no swelling, no skin dimpling. Some simple home remedies may solve the problem without a doctor’s visit.
If you have had previous breast surgery, your surgical scars might be causing the itching. Itching around surgical scars is very common even long after the surgery. You can try massaging in a cream designed to minimize scarring to see if that helps. My physical therapist explained that massaging helps break down bands of collagen that form with the scar.
If your breasts are expanding because of puberty, pregnancy, or weight gain, you may experience itching as the skin and tissues expand to your new size. Again, massage, maybe with a cream for stretch marks, might give you some relief.
Preventing itching from dry skin
The most common reason for itchy breasts is probably dry skin, so taking measures to remove irritants and add moisture is your best approach to this problem:
- Switch to an unscented skin cleanser designed for sensitive skin. Even if you have been using the same product for years with no problem, you may have developed a sensitivity to an ingredient in it. Or, as you have aged, that product may no longer be right for your older, drier skin.
- Take warm, not hot, showers or baths and limit the amount of time you spend in the water. You might even want to try washing your breasts only every two or three days to give the natural oils on the surface of your breasts time to replenish.
- Use an unscented moisturizer or body lotion designed for sensitive skin. Do not use cortisone creams without consulting your doctor.
- Be sure you rinse your clothes well, especially your bras. Check the laundry detergent aisle for products without dyes or perfumes. Again, you will find some especially designed for sensitive skin that you might want to try. One of our readers found that adding a water softener helped because minerals in hard water can be irritating.
- Choose bras with soft fabrics that let your skin breathe. Thick padding or scratchy lace may be causing your itching. Go braless at home as much as practical to get some air circulation for your breasts. Definitely don’t wear a bra to sleep in.
- When you itch, DO NOT SCRATCH! Yes, I do know how hard this advice is to follow. Itches beg to be scratched! But scratching only makes the problem worse. Instead of scratching, try pressing firmly with the heel of the hand on the itchy area. That can bring some relief without damaging the skin and leaving red marks.
Of course, if these home remedies don’t work, you should check in with your doctor even if you don’t have a rash. Intermittent itching on both breasts is almost never a serious health risk, but it is uncomfortable. Your doctor may have a solution to the problem.
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Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.