You feel some discomfort on your chest, take off your shirt to check it out and see red, irritated patches of skin, it could be eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. But don’t panic just yet. If a doctor confirms you have breast eczema, there are easy ways to soothe the sensitive skin in this area. Read on to find out what exactly breast eczema is, and how to get relief.
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What causes eczema on your breast?
Eczema in general is caused by family history, having allergies or asthma, and being exposed to irritants in your environment, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If your immune system is especially sensitive, it may overreact to things like pollen or pollution, too, causing you to experience a flare-up. The National Eczema Association reports that one in 10 people will develop eczema during the course of their lives.
Breast eczema also occurs when your skin reacts to something irritating, or that you’re allergic to. “Taking care of your skin is the best way to prevent and improve it,” says Cula N. Svidzsinki, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The first questions to ask yourself: Am I using new products in this area? Is the fabric of my new shirt irritating my skin? Some easy detective work can instantly uncover the reason for the problem.
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What does breast eczema look like?
Breast eczema can present as a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash, as it does on other parts of the body. Know this, though: according to Cleveland Clinic, breast eczema can bear a strong resemblance to Paget’s Disease, which is a rare form of breast cancer. The symptoms of both conditions can include discoloration of your nipple area, a flat or inverted nipple, itchy, tingly, crusty, thick skin and leaking blood or yellow discharge from around your nipple. However, Paget’s Disease usually appears in just one breast, while eczema can appear all across your chest.
Still, if you have any of the above symptoms, you want to see your doctor. “The most important thing is to make sure there is no underlying breast disease,” 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 kind of eczema on your breasts called nummular eczema, which is characterized by red skin lesions that look like coins. A study by Japanese researchers found that nummular eczema can occur on the breasts as a skin complication from reconstructive surgery after breast reconstruction. Discuss this with your surgeon and dermatologist if you experience it.
Can I get eczema on my nipples?
You can indeed. Cleveland Clinic also reports that signs of breast eczema to look for include an inflamed, itchy rash around your areola and on your nipples; brown, red or gray spots on the skin around your nipples; small skin bumps in the region that ooze; and dry skin that may scab over. It may cause a burning sensation when you breastfeed as well.
Eczema on your nipples can happen when your clothes rub against your skin. AA study by Koren scientists found that eczema on your nipples is most often caused by an allergic reaction. It’s really common to have this kind of reaction to soap, laundry detergent or body lotion.
How to treat eczema:
Often, your doctor will recommend a low-potency topical steroid cream to clear up eczema. If you have eczema on or around your nipples, and you’re a nursing mom, the National Eczema Association recommends applying this kind of cream after you breastfeed, to allow it time to absorb into your skin. Use as little cream as you can, because there is evidence of growth issues and high blood pressure in babies from prolonged skin contact with these meds. For this reason and/or discomfort, you may prefer to pump your milk during eczema flare-ups. “Moisturize the flange of the bottle with Vaseline to minimize friction during pumping,” says Dr. Svidzsinki.
How can I stop breast eczema from coming back?
You can’t cure eczema completely, but you can do a lot to prevent flare-ups. “A gentle non-soap cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizing cream are good starting points,” says Dr. Gohara. Make sure you launder your clothes the right way, too. “If you wear bras, make sure to use free-and-clear laundry detergent and skip fabric softener,” Dr. Gohara adds.
Dr. Svidzsinki offers the following simple tips:
- Shorten your shower time to 15 minutes, and use warm water, not hot
- Avoid rubbing your breasts with a washcloth or loofah, which may cause skin micro-tears or irritation
- Wear unpadded cotton bras if possible, as foam padding traps particles like allergens, which can be highly irritating to your skin.
The real key to coping with breast eczema: simple but powerful TLC. Treat your skin as gently as you can, and you’ll lessen your chances of an uncomfortable breakout.
Lisa Mulcahy is an internationally established health writer whose credits include Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Oprah Daily, Woman’s Day, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parade, Health, Self, Family Circle and Seventeen. She is the author of eight best-selling books, including \The Essentials of Theater.\
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