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What Causes Puffy Areolas?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A number of different conditions and medical problems can cause a puffy areola, but in most cases normal hormonal shifts are to blame. Breastfeeding moms may also notice increased puffiness and swelling when their babies are learning to latch, growing teeth, or weaning. Infected nipples or breast tissues can be a cause, as well, and in rare cases puffiness may be a symptom of breast cancer.

Puberty and Hormonal Changes

The breasts — including the nipples and areolae — are part of the female reproductive system, and as a result they are very closely impacted by hormonal shifts and changes that have to do with puberty, menstruation, and menopause. Girls often first notice swelling and tenderness as their bodies begin the transition from child to woman. This usually happens in response to estrogen and other hormones, and tends to subside once development is complete. Young women may experience puffiness on and off for months and sometimes years as the breast tissues expand, stretch, and grow.

Some women also notice swelling and minor inflammation in the days leading up to the start of their menstrual cycle. Hormone levels are often in a state of extreme flux during this time. Increased estrogen and progesterone counts can impact everything from mood swings to muscular cramps, and breast tenderness is frequently on the list as well. Most of the time any puffing will go away on its own once the woman’s period starts.

Older women who are going through menopause frequently see this symptom, too, and it is often one of the first signs that change is underway. Menopause is closely related to puberty, only instead of getting ready to reproduce the body is shutting down that capability. The outward experience is very different, but the hormones and internal chemistry behind both processes are usually quite similar.

Pregnancy

Puffiness and swelling of the areoles is a common side effect of pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester as the breasts are preparing to produce and dispense milk. Puffiness is most common in both breasts simultaneously, but can happen one at a time. This is most common in women who have breasts of different sizes or who have had cosmetic or plastic surgery. Swelling is usually just a way for the body to prepare and test out the milk ducts. Some fluid seepage may occur during this process, and in some cases the puffing only increases once the baby is born and feeding begins. It will usually go away once the woman’s body adjusts to the baby’s needs, though this can sometimes take a few weeks.

Breastfeeding Irritations and Infections

Though breastfeeding is a natural process, it doesn’t always come easily to every new mom. Babies who have difficulty latching, swallowing, or sucking can irritate the areole as they try to eat, and engorgement of the breasts — an often painful condition that happens when a mother makes more milk than her baby is willing or able to eat — only makes things worse.

Infections are another common cause. Thrush, mastitis, and blocked ducts are just a few examples of breastfeeding problems that can lead to puffiness and swelling on or around the nipples, as well as fever, intense pain, and heightened sensitivity. These are generally considered somewhat serious and often require medical intervention to solve. Babies who bite their mothers may also cause puffiness, particularly if they puncture the nipple tissue.

Cysts and Growths

A cyst or other abnormal growth beneath the skin’s surface might also be to blame. This is very often the case when a woman has just one puffy areola. Small growths are often all but undetectable without a thorough exam, and a mammogram or other medical imaging scan may be required. Most abnormal growths are benign, which means that they aren’t harmful in and of themselves. Surgery or certain anti-inflammatory medications can often return a person to normal with little interruption to daily life.

Breast Cancer

Cancer is a rare, but serious, potential cause of a of puffy areola. Breast cancer happens when the tissues of the nipple, mammary glands, or lymph nodes regenerate endlessly, which causes devastating tumors to grow and spread throughout the body. Most women with breast cancer have many more symptoms than simple puffiness, though it is often one of the early warning signs that something just isn’t right.

When to Get Help

Puffiness or minor swelling isn’t usually anything to worry about, and most medical experts recommend a “wait and see” approach where patients are told to monitor their symptoms, making note of changes or pain. Puffiness that does not seem to go away on its own after a few days, that is painful, or that is accompanied by fever, rash, or liquid seepage should usually get medical attention to rule out any more serious conditions. Anyone who suspects an infection should also seek prompt care to keep things from spreading.

Puffy Nipples Syndrome

Puffy nipple syndrome is a fairly common phenomenon in men and is not usually one of medical concern. Quite literally, puffy nipples occur when the glands or fatty tissue around a man's areola gathers together. The grouping of the glands or tissue causes the areolas to appear like small domes. Despite the lack of medical worries, many males prefer to find the root of the problem and fix it due to feeling less masculine, uncomfortable, or embarrassed about the situation.

Causes of Puffy Nipple Syndrome

There are several potential causes of puffy nipple syndrome.

  • Gynecomastia – Some males have a disorder known as gynecomastia, which creates abnormal breast growth. Depending on the size and patterns of the glands affected, the development of the disorder will be different from patient to patient.
  • Hormonal Imbalance – The most common cause of puffy nipples is hormonal imbalance. If a male's estrogen levels are too high, the body may cause the glands around the breast tissue to grow.
  • Hyperthyroidism – When the thyroid gland is overactive and results in hyperthyroidism, it can also cause fat growth in areas that males don't usually see it, specifically around the nipples.
  • Malnutrition – Eating a healthy, balanced diet is essential for keeping hormones properly balanced. When a man does not eat a healthy diet, he may become malnourished, which then drops his testosterone levels. In turn, lowered testosterone may lead to puffy nipples.
  • Obesity – Men who are overweight or obese are more likely to carry excess fat in and around the breast. Obesity can also increase estrogen levels, making it more likely for puffy nipples syndrome to occur.
  • Puberty – A sudden increase in testosterone during puberty may cause the estrogen to suddenly increase as well. This is because the aromatase enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen, sometimes more quickly than the body is ready for. During this time, puffy nipple syndrome may occur.
  • Steroid Use – Men who use anabolic steroids or those who drink alcohol excessively are more likely to have a hormonal imbalance that leads to puffy nipples.

Treatment for Puffy Nipples Syndrome

There are several things a man can do that may help to reduce the symptoms of puffy nipple syndrome. The first is to change his dietary habits. Consuming organic, all-natural, and healthy food items like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds may help to reduce symptoms. They give the body more energy and provide required nutrients without leading the body to store more fat the way processed and packaged foods do. Eating only when hungry is also essential.

Regular exercise is also important. Moving the body for at least one hour per day not only lowers the chance of puffy nipples but also increases the body's overall strength as well as improves weight, cardiovascular health, and much more. Focusing on exercise that improves the strength of the pectoral muscles can also help to reduce the appearance of puffy nipples. In addition to running, dancing, or cycling, swimming, yoga, and other exercises are good options.

Depending on the man's overall health, a doctor may suggest someone who has puffy nipples syndrome take supplements that boost testosterone production. The increased testosterone can combat any increase in estrogen and in many cases can reduce the appearance of puffy nipples.

In rare cases, such as if someone is already eating healthy foods and exercises but not seeing any changes, a doctor may suggest surgical options to reduce the signs of puffy nipples syndrome. Liposuction, a mastectomy to remove excess breast tissue, or a tissue excision are common examples.

Sometimes, the only thing a person can do is to wait it out, such as during puberty. Often, a male who is going through puberty will outgrow the condition on his own. However, once he turns 18 years of age, a doctor can advise him on a treatment plan if he is still experiencing puffy nipples syndrome and is concerned about how to handle the problem.

When To See a Doctor About Puffy Nipples Syndrome

Men who notice their nipples seem puffy or are otherwise larger than normal should consider seeing a doctor even if they are not otherwise worried about the problem. This is because in rare cases, the syndrome can be a symptom of another underlying condition that is more serious. Early detection of other conditions, such as breast cancer, is essential for ensuring overall good health. A doctor can assess the situation to determine what the best treatment options are, if any are necessary at all.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1004257 — On Dec 28, 2020

@anon986820 No, there is nothing wrong with you. It’s perfectly normal and you are just attractive and men really like puffy nipples.

By anon999785 — On Mar 16, 2018

After puberty will the puffiness go away?

By anon993829 — On Dec 18, 2015

I am embarrassed. I have hard nipples 24/7 and need relief! I don't know what to do. Help.

By anon986820 — On Jan 28, 2015

I'm a 12 year old girl and my breasts are not big but my nipples are real puffy and kind of noticeable under my shirt. My mom won't buy me a bra yet because she thinks I'm too young. I see older guys looking at me. Is there something wrong with me?

By pleonasm — On Feb 16, 2013

@Mor - Generally, if it's happening in both breasts it's not going to be cancer. Cancer is almost never going to appear in both breasts simultaneously.

With that said, I know there are definitely disease out there that mimic the hormones you get during pregnancy. And if I'm remembering correctly, one of the times that can happen is if you have cancer somewhere else and the body is trying to get rid of it. So, if it happens and you aren't pregnant, and haven't changed your birth control medication recently or anything, I would definitely get it checked out. And this goes doubly for men, since they can definitely get diseases that interfere with these hormones as well.

By Mor — On Feb 15, 2013

@anon307285 - I'm surprised your midwife hasn't come across this as it's fairly common among pregnant women. The breast tissue has to change so much in order to prepare for the baby, it's no surprise that it may look or feel strange during the pregnancy.

It would be scary without any information though, particularly if you have come across the websites that claim puffy areolas are always a symptom of cancer.

By anon307285 — On Dec 04, 2012

Finally, some information on 'puffy' areolas. I'm 24 weeks pregnant, and for the last two months I have noticed my areolas are swollen or puffy in the mornings.

I have literally traveled the web and all reading materials plus asking my midwife, to no avail! My midwife told me she has never come across this. Thank you for providing this info. I can't believe this isn't a common occurrence for women who are pregnant. If I had come across this months ago, I would have been reassured ages ago!

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