The good news is areola pain is usually benign. Every woman experiences it from time to time and, though it can be a bit frustrating, irritating and cause discomfort, it will often go away on its own.
But what should you if it does not go away on its own? What should you do if you notice the intensity of the pain starting to increase? What do you do if the pain is so intense you can’t stand it?
These are just some of the questions we will be answering today. We are also going to talk about the causes of this strange pain in your areolas because, though we said it is entirely normal in most cases, it can sometimes be an indication of a particular health problem.
But first, let’s kick things off with a little anatomy.
The Anatomy Of The Areola
Though we usually talk about it when talking about the nipple, the term areola is not exclusive to this region. Areola1 stands for any small space in a tissue – area around the nipple, the colored part of the iris around the pupil of the eye, etc.
The areola we will be talking about today is that pink colored ring found around the nipple. The primary function2 of the areola is to support the nipple.
Areolas contain sweat glands called Montgomery’s glands which help keep the nipple moisturized during lactation (breastfeeding).
Size And Color
The color of the areola will depend on many factors, but it is usually described as pink or brown.
The color will also depend on the age, skin tone, hormones, pregnancy, etc.
As for the size, it will also vary. Standard size in a sexually mature woman will range anywhere from 1.5in (3cm) up to 4in(10cm).
Most Common Causes Of Areola Pain
Sometimes, making the distinction between areola and nipple pain will be a hard one to make, this is why we will cover conditions affecting them both.
A Poorly Fitted Bra
This is one of the most common causes of areola, nipple, and even breast pain and irritation.
Though this may sound silly, even embarrassing, you will be surprised to know that as many a 70% of women are wearing a wrong sized bra.
Another common “problem” women will face are uneven breasts. According to some research, around 42% of women have one breast larger than the other. This can also be a problem when choosing a right bra(in this situation, you should pick a bra that first your larger breast).
So, if you are suffering from pain and irritation in this region, it may be down to the wrong size.
Unfortunately, we do not possess technical capabilities to feature a bra size calculator on our website, but you can hop over to a website called Calculator.net and try that one. You can visit it by clicking the image below:
This is another common cause of areola pain. During menstruation, your breasts will become more tender and sensitive, so ache and discomfort is nothing you should be afraid of.
If you notice this type of pain and you are on your period, there is really not much you can do. That being said, we can offer you a little piece of advice, and that is to lower your sodium levels.
Sodium will get your body to retain more water, so your breasts and nipples might get even more swollen. Reducing sodium levels might ease your pain a bit.
So how do you reduce sodium levels? Believe it or not, you should drink more water! Water will hydrate your body, flush your digestive system and cause you to release even more water through secretion.
Another thing you can do is hit the sauna and sweat your “excess water” away. A sauna would be a good place to do just that.
Pregnancy is a time when your hormones go wild. The levels of progesterone and estrogen rise and, as a result, the tissue around the nipple (as well as the nipple itself) becomes more sensitive to the touch.
Your nipples are also fuller and more tender as the time goes by, and after around 9th week, the nipples become bigger and slightly darker (since hormones can even cause changes in the skin’s pigment).
Mastitis3 is another “pregnancy-related” cause of areola pain. It is an infection of the tissue of the mammary gland within the breast.
There are two main causes of mastitis in women and those are:
- Bacteria introduced from the outside – in this case, the bacteria are introduced through tiny cracks in the surface of the skin. Bacteria often comes from the baby’s mouth.
- Milk stasis – the important thing we need to remember about breast milk is that all of it needs to come out. If for some reason, some milk is left behind, it can build up and get infected by a bacteria.
Milk stasis can have a number of different causes, some of which are:
- Baby feeding problems – if, for some reason, baby has a problem sucking, or does not get into the proper position, some milk might get left behind
- Changes in feeding frequency
- A blow to the chest – a blow to the chest can cause blockage in milk ducts
- Pressure on your breasts – wearing tight,
poorly fitted clothes can put some pressure to the breast tissue and cause problems
If you have mastitis, you will experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, body ache, fever; your breast and nipple will become tender and your areola might change color (become red).
An interesting fact about mastitis is that it rarely affects both breasts at the same time. Researchers suspect the reason behind this is that the baby usually favors one breast. Repeated stress to that specific breast (feeding) may lead to the development of mastitis.
As for the treatment, you should visit your GP, especially if you are breastfeeding. He/she might prescribe specific medication (depending on your current state) and offer some tips to help relieve your symptoms.
Some of the tips we can offer you are to avoid wearing tight clothes (especially bras) until the problems go away. One other thing you can do(if you are breastfeeding) is to regularly express your milk, by hand or by using a breast pump.
You should also drink plenty of water and get enough rest.
Atopic dermatitis4, can also be called eczema, is a medical condition where the skin becomes extremely itchy and inflamed. Itchiness and inflammation lead to the development of tiny blisters, redness, swelling, and cracking.
Scratching your skin may also lead to crusting and scaling. Scratching your skin will also damage it even further and allow for even more bacteria to penetrate it and cause more severe health problems. This is why this skin disease is so problematic.
This type of dermatitis will affect both men and woman of all ages but is more common in infants and younger children. It is also more common in families already affected by it, so there is a definite hereditary component to it.
Dermatitis may also be triggered by:
- Dry skin
- Prolonged contact with water
- Various skin products
- Skin irritation due to clothing
As you can see, this is a severe disease so if you notice a persistent rash on your skin that just does not go away, see a doctor.
The good news is, the condition may be put under control in as little as three weeks, but only with proper treatment! Corticosteroid creams and ointments are most commonly prescribed.
If you do get diagnosed with this disease, in addition to the prescribed treatment, you should also pay attention to prevention – avoid disease triggers as much as you can.
Friction during exercise is common, especially if you are not wearing proper clothes. This is most apparent in running as your clothes will jump up and down as you move forward.
If you notice this type of irritation on your nipples and areolas, wearing a sports bra should be a must. You should also consider applying some topical cream, just to minimize friction.
Common symptoms you will experience are:
This is a condition is related to the one we’ve already talked about earlier – mastitis. It manifests itself as a consequence of a baby’s bite during breastfeeding.
The bacteria will penetrate the skin/ducts and cause soreness, tenderness, increased localized temperature and intense pain.
We need to drain that abscess but under no circumstances should you attempt to do it at home, by yourself. Seeing a doctor is the right thing to do.
Paget’s disease5 is the most severe we will be talking about today. It is a rare form of breast cancer where cancer cells gather around the nipple.
Cancer attacks the milk ducts first, and it then spreads to the nipple surface and the areola. It usually affects older individuals (50 to 60 years of age) and will rarely attack both breasts at the same time.
As for the symptoms, they are usually nonspecific at first – the skin around the nipples will become sore, red and flaky. But, as the time goes by, the symptoms start becoming more intense:
- Itching and burning
- Pain and sensitivity
- Skin thickening/scaling
- Nipple flattening
- Yellowish or bloody discharge
It is important to note that this disease is rare, so rare some doctors might mistake it for skin eczema. Which is why (should you notice the symptoms we’ve mentioned above) it would be a good idea to check yourself checked out by a breast specialist.
The disease diagnosis usually follows a few steps – physical examination, a mammogram, an MRI and, if needed, a biopsy of the nipple/areola.
1. “Medical Definition of Areola” by MedicineNet
2. “Purpose And Function Of The Areola” by Breast Health Online
3. “Mastitis” by NHS
4. “Atopic Dermatitis” by MedicineNet
5. “Paget’s Disease Of The Nipple” by BreastCancer.org
– Image 1 Source: Gray H. Thorax – Breast, Anatomy of the human body, page 62