Breast Eczema: Symptoms, Treatment and Causes

You have an uncomfortable feeling in your chest, take off your shirt to check it out and see patches of red, irritated skin, it could be eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. But don’t panic yet. If a doctor confirms you have breast eczema, there are simple ways to soothe the sensitive skin in that area. Read on to find out what exactly breast eczema is and how you can get relief.

What Causes Eczema on Your Breast?

Eczema is generally caused by family history, allergies or asthma, and exposure to irritants in your environment, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If your immune system is particularly sensitive, it may also overreact to things like pollen or pollution, leading to a flare-up. That National Eczema Association reports that one in 10 people will develop eczema in their lifetime.

Breast eczema also occurs when your skin reacts to something irritating or to which you are allergic. “Taking care of your skin is the best way to prevent and improve it,” she says Cula N. Svidzsinki, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The first questions to ask yourself: Do I use new products in this area? Will the fabric of my new shirt irritate my skin? Some simple detective work can immediately uncover the cause of the problem.

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What does breast eczema look like?

Breast eczema can present as a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash, as it can on other parts of the body. However, do you know this: acc Cleveland ClinicBreast eczema can bear a strong resemblance to Paget’s disease, this is a rare form of breast cancer. Symptoms of both conditions can include discoloration of your nipple area, a flat or inverted nipple, itchy, tingling, crusted, thick skin, and leaking blood or yellow discharge around your nipple. However, Paget’s disease usually only occurs in one breast, while eczema can appear anywhere on the breast.

Dermatitis eczema texture of sick human skin

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However, if you have any of the above symptoms, you should see your doctor. “The most important thing is to make sure there is no underlying breast disease,” she says Mona Gohara, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. “All of your breast imaging — mammograms and ultrasounds — should be up to date.”

You can also develop a specific type of eczema on your breasts called eczema nummular eczema, characterized by red skin lesions that look like coins. A study by Japanese researchers found that nummular eczema on the breasts can occur as a skin complication after reconstructive surgery following breast reconstruction. Discuss this with your surgeon and dermatologist if you experience it.

Can I get eczema on my nipples?

Indeed you can. Cleveland Clinic also reports that signs of breast eczema to look for are an inflamed, itchy rash around your areola and on your nipples; brown, red, or gray patches on the skin around your nipples; small bumps in the region that ooze; and dry skin that may form scabs. A burning sensation can also occur when breastfeeding.

Eczema on your nipples can occur when your clothes rub against your skin. An AA study by Koren scientists found that eczema on your nipples is most commonly caused by an allergic reaction. This type of reaction to soap, detergent, or body lotion is really common.

How to treat eczema:

Often your doctor will recommend a low-potency topical steroid cream to clear eczema. If you have eczema on or around your nipples and are a breastfeeding mother, National Eczema Association recommends applying this type of cream after breastfeeding to give it time to absorb into your skin. Use as little cream as possible as there is evidence of growth problems and high blood pressure in babies from prolonged skin contact with these drugs. For this reason and/or inconvenience, you may prefer to express your milk during eczema flare-ups. “Wet the flange of the bottle with petroleum jelly to minimize friction during pumping,” says Dr. Svidzsinki.

How can I prevent breast eczema from coming back?

You can’t completely cure eczema, but there’s a lot you can do to prevent flare-ups. “A gentle, soap-free cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizer are good places to start,” says Dr. Gohara. Also, make sure to wash your clothes properly. “If you’re wearing bras, be sure to use free detergent and skip fabric softener,” adds Dr. Gohara added.

dr Svidzsinki offers the following simple tips:

  • Cut your shower time down to 15 minutes and use warm water, not hot
  • Avoid rubbing your breasts with a washcloth or loofah as this can cause microcracks or irritation to the skin
  • Wear unpadded cotton bras whenever possible, as the foam padding will trap particles such as allergens that can severely irritate your skin.

The real key to managing breast eczema: simple yet powerful TLC. Treat your skin as gently as possible, and you’ll reduce the chances of a nasty breakout.

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