Many people are embarrassed about seeking medical help for problems with their nipples. In her book, Warts and All, Dr Margaret Stearn lists possible problems and symptoms as well as treatments that are available. She also advises when expert medical opinion should be sought.
Nipple Discharge and other Problems
There are a number of issues that can arise with nipples and while many are harmless, others are more serious. Any nipple problems can be worrying for the person concerned:
• Nipple discharge in women is normally harmless and can range from white to yellow-green or almost black liquid. A bloodstained discharge is more serious and can be a sign of breast cancer. Men seldom have a discharge from their nipples and medical help should be sought immediately if one appears
• Certain medications such as oral contraceptives, some stomach and anti-nausea medications and some antidepressants can cause nipple discharge
• Inflammation or mastitis around the ducts can be caused by breast feeding or is sometimes linked to smoking
• Inverted nipples are tucked into the breast as opposed to being flat or sticking out. This may cause problems with breast feeding but can be alleviated by breast shields that help to pull nipples outward
• Nipples that suddenly become inverted can be a sign of cancer and should be looked at by a doctor
• Dark coarse hairs around the nipple are common and can be removed by carefully cutting them off. Plucking can be painful and may irritate the sensitive skin around the nipple
• Eczema can cause the nipples and areolas to become itchy, scaly and cracked. It can be treated by a steroid cream
• Jogger’s nipple is caused by friction with clothing, especially during long distance running. It can be alleviated by taping the nipples or rubbing them with petroleum jelly before running
• Some people have an extra nipple or nipples although these may be less obvious than the other nipples. If a woman is breastfeeding, the extra nipples may also produce milk
Nipple problems are often minor and cause more in the way of discomfort than serious problems. People may be reluctant to seek medical help but should do so immediately if a nipple becomes inverted or begins to leak blood-stained fluid. Skin irritation can be treated with cream and jogger’s nipple can be prevented with taping and the application of petroleum jelly.
Reference: Warts and All, Dr Margaret Stearn, Murdoch Books, 2007