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Nipple or Subareolar Abscess – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Updated November 04, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Breast Abscesses

Breast Abscesses

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What Is a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess?:

A nipple or a subareolar abscess is a growth that is located on your nipple or right beneath your areola. An abscess is a pocket of pus that presses on nearby tissue and is accompanied by swelling and inflammation. A nipple or a subareolar abscess may cause pain, a small tender lump, and drainage of pus.

Is a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess Breast Cancer?:

Though they may raise concern about that in your mind, no, these are non-cancerous breast conditions.

Other Terms for a Subareolar Abscess:

Areolar gland abscess, Zuska's disease, lactiferous fistula

Symptoms of a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess:

You might not develop all of these symptoms, but these are common for a nipple or a subareolar abscess:

  • swollen and tender area of tissue on nipple or areola
  • pus or discharge emerging from from the swollen tissue
  • fever
  • general feeling of illness, similar to flu-like symptoms

Comparing Mastitis With Nipple or Subareolar Abscesses:

Mastitis and other breast abscesses are infections that are caused when bacteria gets inside your breast skin. Mastitis is a breast abscess that occurs in women who are breastfeeding when a milk duct gets plugged.

A nipple or a subareolar abscess occurs in young to middle-aged women who are not breastfeeding, and involves nipple tissue or areolar glands.

Causes of Nipple or Subareolar Abscess:

Areolar glands may become blocked, allowing bacteria to develop. Your immune system goes into action to fight the infection, sending white blood cells into the blocked-up areas. When those blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria stew together in the abscess pocket, pus forms. If you have your nipple pierced and infection sets in, bacteria can get through the skin and cause a subareolar abscess.

How a Subareolar Abscess is Diagnosed:

If you think your symptoms match those of a nipple or a subareolar abscess, see your doctor.  You will have a visual examination, which may include a clinical breast exam and an ultrasound of the inflamed area.

Treatment for a Nipple or Subareolar Abscess:

To clear up the infection within an abscess, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.  Be sure to take these as instructed . If you quit taking the medicine just when symptoms subside, it is possible to have a relapse.  In some cases, your doctor may want to open and drain the abscess to promote healing.  If the problem is quite bothersome, you may need to have the abscess and the related glands surgically removed.

Sources:

Breast infection. Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health. Updated: 5/12/2008.

Mycobacterium Fortuitum and Anaerobic Breast Abscess Following Nipple Piercing: Case Presentation and Review of the Literature. Victoria Bengualid, M.D., Veera Singh, M.D., Herpreet Singh, M.D., Judith Berger, M.D. Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 42, Issue 5, Pages 530-532 (May 2008).

Subareolar abscess. Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health. Updated: 10/28/2008.

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