Struggling with itchy breasts? This could be why…

a woman in a silk night top itching her breast
Struggling with itchy breasts? This might be why…Tharakorn - Getty Images

There’s nothing worse than when you’re sat in a meeting, trying to concentrate – and the niggle of itching begins in your boobs. Joy.

Of course, there’s no discrete or polite way to relieve the itch in your breasts when you’re in company (and clawing at your boobs in the middle of the office is an HR case waiting to happen...).

Itchy breasts are a fairly common – if annoying – symptom that most of us just have to put up with from time to time. However, there are a few occasions where your itchy boobs could be pointing towards something a little more serious.

We spoke to Richard Johnson, Consultant Reconstructive and Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at The Wilmslow Hospital, part of HCA UK. for his expert advice on what the causes of itchy breasts are, how to treat the symptoms, and when you should head to the GP.

Why are my breasts itchy?

Itchy breasts can be a symptom of a number of things going on inside our bodies – and thankfully, the vast majority of these reasons are harmless.

“It’s a very common symptom,” Johnson explains. “Itchiness tends to occur around the areola area, and the most common cause is simply dry skin.

“Sun exposure, excess sweating and harsh skin products can also cause our skin to become itchy.”

If you feel your boobs get more irritable in summer months, or after some sweaty exercise, heat rash may be to blame.

“If you have spots on your skin that presents like little pinpricks, it’s likely the heat is to blame for your itching,” Johnson continues, adding that it’s really common for excess sweat to build up under the bra, which can cause irritation.

However, your fave new perfume could also be a fact. Lots of itching that occurs on or around the breast can be linked to contact dermatitis – an itchy rash caused by allergens within a substance. The rash, which is a type of eczema, can show up several days after initial exposure.

Lighter skin people can become red if allergies are to blame, while darker skin tones can turn dark brown, purple or grey in these circumstances.

“We often ask patients if they’ve changed their washing detergent,” Johnson says. “It can sometimes be something as simple as that.”

Are itchy breasts a sign of pregnancy?

We know the feeling - your breasts start to get itchy, things feel a little *off* - your mind starts racing and suddenly you’re questioning if you might be with child.

Well, it’s not impossible your niggling boobs may be telling you you’re expecting, but it’s not guaranteed either.

“Your breasts growing tends to make them more sensitive,” Johnson explains. “More oestrogen is released early in your cycle, which can cause the breast ducts to grow in size.

“If you’re pregnant, or you’ve gained weight, your skin is expanding, stretching and drying out.”

side view close up of pregnant woman touching her belly pregnancy health wellbeing concept
Oscar Wong - Getty Images

However, if you’re due on your period, you may feel your itching subside when your hormones start to level out (around day 22-24 of your cycle).

If your itchy breasts correspond with other symptoms typical of pregnancy – nausea, changes in your menstrual cycle, excessive tiredness – then it may be time to take a test, just for peace of mind.

Are itchy breasts a sign of cancer?

Again, it’s unlikely for itchy breasts to be symptomatic of breast cancer, but there are some vital (but rare) signs you should be aware of.

“There are two conditions that run through our mind if we see women with breast itching or nipple complaint,” Johnson explains.

“Inflammatory breast cancer can present with just a common rash on the breast. Most rashes go on their own in a week or two. With inflammatory breast cancer, the rash worsens and deepens; skin can begin to get thick, red and start to weep.”

Another even rarer form of breast cancer associated with itching is Paget’s disease of the nipple.

“This can begin as an itchy nipple,” says Johnson. “It can lead to ulceration of the nipple. It doesn’t always present with a lump, and can be a sign of a cancer deeper in the breast.

“The nipple can look red and scaly, it can bleed and it can scab over.

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish from some eczema around the nipple. If someone has been scratching at their breast, it can be hard to tell and further tests are needed.

“However, this is quite rare and tends to be found more commonly in older women.”

How can you treat itchy breasts?

If your itchy breasts are really starting to irritate you, there are a few topical treatments you can apply to soothe your symptoms.

To tackle the itch, Johnson recommends an over-the-counter steroid cream like 1% hydrocortisone.

chubby young woman in lingerie plus size woman at home
Maria Korneeva - Getty Images

“Steroids are anti-inflammatory, so this will basically calm the skin down,” he explains. “Apply it under a plaster, so the cream doesn’t rub off onto your bra, and see if there’s any progress within a week or two.

“You can combine this with an over-the-counter antihistamine. Studies point to histamines being a predominant mediator of itchiness, so an antihistamine could certainly help.

“Some skin conditions can be caused by fungal infections, so trying an antifungal cream could also help rule out anything more serious.”

If you’ve scratched your skin red raw, a thick moisturiser with ceramides can help soothe and heal the skin. Light aloe vera gel can also help with this.

Johnson recommends changing any strong scented soaps, perfumes or washing detergents for something gentler on the skin.

“Things that are fairly acidic, or quite alkaline, can be irritants,” he says. “Try to use simple soaps and washes that have a close to neutral pH.”

What itchy breast symptoms you should look out for?

If your itching continues to persist for more than two weeks, and isn’t eased by remedies, then your irritable breasts may be a sign of something more serious.

“If you’ve got continued itching on your breasts, an inverted nipple, skin tethering or puckered, unusual discharge or a lump, be sure to see your doctor straight away,” explains Johnson. “Doctors will need to do a punch biopsy to rule anything more dangerous out.

“Usually, itchy breasts just a mild, harmless symptom. But if you’re ever unsure, be sure to see your GP.”

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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