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Skin Care

Hard Nipples: Causes, Effects, and Fixes

Are you worried about your hard nipples? Do your nipples get hard whenever you are in cold weather? Do your nipples get hard during your periods? Do your nipples get hard out of nowhere and you have no idea why?

If you have these issues, read on to discover what is it, what caused it, and how you can solve it.

What are hard nipples?

Hard nipples are a physiological response to physical or psychological stimuli in most cases.  Hard nipples can even happen out of nowhere. The nerves in the nipple are sensitive to any stimuli.

It really can be a lot of things. It can be fluctuations in temperature or the fabric of your shirt. So it is entirely normal if your nipples become hard.

Michelle Lee says:

‘Underneath the nipple and areola, there are the tiny muscles that contract and pull on the skin and push the nipples inside out.’

The stimulation might be sexual. Your nipples are sensitive erogenous zones. Whether physical or psychological stimulation, arousal can trigger the nerves of the genital portion, including the nipples.

‘These physical or psychological stimulations can activate these parts of the brain that’ causes those muscles in your nipple to become erect, similar to the effect that the aroused feeling can have on your genital portions,’ says Heather Irobunda.

Some studies also show that the stimulation in the cervix or vagina can stimulate the same part of the brain as the nipple stimulation activates the genital sensory cortex.

Nipples are composed of erectile tissues that receive tons of blood flow. So when the genital sensory cortex gets stimulated, the tissues get a lot of blood flow which hardens the nipples.

a woman breast hard nipples

But stimulation is not always arousal.

Your nipples can get hardened when the temperature rises or drops, and it is normal. When the nipples are exposed to cold temperatures, the areola around your nipple contracts, pushing the nipple outwards.

Hormones can also cause your nipples to get hard. When you are on your period or during ovulation, there is a change in hormones, and it can cause the nipples to get hardened.

Especially, estrogen levels can cause the nipples to become more sensitive, and the nipples are more likely to become hardened.

What causes hard nipples?

Allergy

Hard nipples can happen due to any allergy. Sometimes the soaps, shower gels, or lotions can trigger allergic reactions on our skin and breast, and they can also harden the nipples. So, in this case, you need not worry. Your doctor will rule out the cause and will treat it with prescribed medicines.

Pregnancy

Hardening of nipples can also occur during pregnancy. During pregnancy, there is a fluctuation in hormones which can cause the nipples to get hard. At the same time, there is an up-thick in blood supply during pregnancy, which can cause the nipples to stick out and grow longer. It is a normal physiological response to pregnancy, so you don’t need to worry about it.

If you are pregnant, you might want to read our 10 skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy.

pregnancy pregnant women

Pre-menopause and menopause

During premenopause and at the time of menopause, there is a lot of changes in hormones. As you get closer to menopause, there is a decrease in estrogen level in the body, resulting in your breasts getting hardened. Breast hardness is one of the common causes of perimenopause.

While we’re at hormone, learn about DHT hormone that primarily causes hair loss.

Postmenstrual syndrome

Postmenstrual syndrome is the same as premenstrual syndrome, just on the other hand of menstruation. Some women experience tenderness in their breasts once in a while.

Piercings

When you get your nipples pierced, they become more sensitive to the stimuli. They react quickly to the stimulations like fabric or some touch. When your nipples get pierced, the bacteria find a way to get in the nipples and cause an infection which can cause the nipple hardness.

Breastfeeding

Erect nipples are vital for breastfeeding. When the mother is in the breastfeeding stage, the nipples get erected for the baby’s ease. It is another physiological process, so you don’t need to worry about it.

a woman breastfeeding

Breast abscess

When you get your nipples pierced, the bacteria can quickly enter the nipples and cause the buildup of pus, leading to breast abscess. It is a severe condition, and the result of this is that nipples get harden. It would help if you stayed in contact with your doctor after nipple piercing.

Temperature

Cold weather is another leading cause of erect nipples. The nerves get contracted when the temperature drops and causes the nipples to be gert erected. However, the high temperature does not affect the nipples that much. It is the most common cause of hard nipples in response to cold temperatures.

Exercise and sports

The sportswomen who practice without the bra or loosely fitting bra can cause the nipples friction and hardening of nipples.

breast cancer marathon run

Sexual activity

Intense oral stimulation can cause the nipples to become tender and sore. Although this is temporary, and it can resolve on its own. Nipples are composed of erectile tissues that receive tons of blood flow. So when the genital sensory cortex gets stimulated, the tissues get a lot of blood flow which hardens the nipples.

Certain medications and herbs

The medicine doctors prescribe for depression and anxiety can cause the nipples to get harden. Similarly, herbal remedies can also cause nipple pain, sensitivity, and tenderness. Get in touch with your doctor when you have hardening of nipples in response to medications so that your doctor can change your medicines if your condition is painful.

Reynaud’s phenomenon

It is a phenomenon that is common in people who breastfeed however it is not associated with breastfeeding. There is a restricted supply of blood to the nipples, which causes numbness, burning, and pain, and the skin color changes to white and blue. Pain in the nipples will result in the hardening of nipples.

Paget’s disease

One of the common symptoms of Paget disease is a sore and tender nipple, which is a common symptom of 1 to 4 percent of breast cancers. When the other areas are not affected, the most common treatment involves surgery.

What are the side effects of hard nipples?

Hard nipples can occur in response to a stimulus like cold temperature, sexual stimulation, exercise and sport, and some diseases like Paget’s breast disease.

In most cases of hard nipples, there is no underlying disease.

But as some women lack medical knowledge and attention, they can worry about breast cancer and get terrified. That can result in severe anxiety and depression.

Some women start trying home remedies and avoid the doctor because they fear the discovery of cancer. But, while it’s difficult, it is advisable to bring this condition to medical attention to rule out the underlying cause and prevent life-threatening diseases.

Remember, 99% of cancer is curable if they are diagnosed and treated early enough.

If you are interested, check out how to induce hair growth after chemo.

Following are the effects of hard nipples on women:

  • Fear of cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Avoiding their doctor
  • Pain in breasts
  • Disturbance in everyday life activities

breast cancer symbol

How to treat hard nipples at home?

One can use many home remedies for the treatment of tender and painful nipples. Following are the home remedies you can use to resolve your hard nipples at home:

  • Massage it gently
  • Apply teabags
  • Use warm compressors
  • Apply ice (not directly on the skin, use a cloth)
  • Moisturize, moisturize and moisturize
  • Keep the skin of your breast dry
  • Avoid highly fragranced deodorants and lotions on your breasts
  • Change out of sweaty shirts
  • Wear breathable clothes
  • Apply sensitive skin lotion

Although there is no evidence that these remedies are very effective, these remedies can definitely lessen the pain in the nipples. These are preliminary steps to take to see if your hard nipples alleviate. If these steps are not resolving the issue, then talk to your doctor.

Manual techniques namely the “Hoffman technique” are used to cure the hard nipples. Similarly, surgery can also treat hard nipples.  But it is not advisable to practice these methods at home without consulting a medical expert.

When should you see a doctor for hard nipples?

If you have any breast tenderness with pain and hardening in your nipples, the first priority is always to see your medical physician immediately to rule out any medical conditions.

You can also try the home remedies to see if it’s serious. If the pain and the hard nipples don’t go away, it is then advisable to see your medical physician immediately.

Of course, it is not always harmful. Sometimes it is due to cold weather, period, intense exercise, or pregnancy.

 

Takeaway message

If you experience hard nipples, it’s not something to overly worry about. Your body is reacting to external and internal factors. In most cases, it’ll go away on its own.

Home treatments can reduce nipple tenderness, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of to seek the doctors’ advice. If anything, we consider it self-care. Giving yourself peace of mind knowing it’s something menial is much healthier than worrying about it every minute.

Your doctor can even tell you their personal remedies to hard nipples that might be even more effective than the ones listed here. If they do, please let us know in the comments!

References

McGuinness, N., & Cording, V. (2013). Raynaud’s phenomenon of the nipple associated with labetalol use. Journal of human lactation: official journal of International Lactation Consultant Association29(1), 17–19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0890334412467509

Tezer, M., Ozluk, Y., Sanli, O., Asoglu, O., & Kadioglu, A. (2012). Nitric oxide may mediate nipple erection. Journal of andrology33(5), 805–810. https://doi.org/10.2164/jandrol.111.014951

Drife J. O. (1982). Hard and painful nipples in cold weather. British Medical Journal (Clinical research ed.)285(6356), 1741–1742.

Dr. Mariyam Fatima M.B.B.S
Mariyam Fatima M.B.B.S. is working as PGR (Post Graduate Resident/Registrar) of Internal Medicine in Nishtar Hospital Multan - one of the most prestigious institutions in Pakistan. She belongs to the rare progeny of healthcare professionals registered with the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) as Registered Medical Practitioners (RMPs). In her free time, she’s a reader and an aspiring author.

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