Breast Rash

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is breast rash?

Rash is a symptom that causes the affected area of skin to turn red and blotchy, and to swell. The rash may cause spots that are bumpy, scaly, flaky, or filled with pus. Rashes can vary in location, pattern and extent and may occur in any area of the body. A breast rash can have a variety of causes, and it may indicate something occurring in the breast itself or suggest a systemic (body-wide) condition.

Contact dermatitis (skin inflammation) is caused by an adverse reaction something that touches the skin, including chemicals found in detergent, soap or a fragrance. For example, you may develop a rash on your breast from wearing a shirt that was washed with a particular detergent or treated with a chemical. Metal, such as a necklace rubbing against your chest, can cause a breast rash. Other forms of contact dermatitis include exposure to certain plants, such as poison oak or ivy, an animal bite, or an insect sting. Allergies to foods, for example, peanuts, shellfish, strawberries or avocados, can also cause a breast rash.

The skin fold beneath the breast is a warm, shaded, moist area – a perfect environment for germs to grow. Fungal skin infections can thrive there.
Breast rash can also be caused by mastitis, an infection that occurs when bacteria get into the breast through a cracked nipple. It occurs in women who are breastfeeding, and causes redness and swelling, typically confined to one side of the chest. Accompanying symptoms include fever, nausea and vomiting. Inflammatory breast cancer is another serious condition that can cause breast rash, as well as tenderness, swelling and redness. It is a rapidly growing cancer that can spread to the adjacent lymph nodes and tissues. Paget’s disease of the breast can also simulate a breast rash. It is usually confined to the nipple, but can suggest an underlying, more invasive cancer.

Rashes may occur in skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and impetigo. Some of these are chronic skin conditions that may flare up for a time, then resolve. Other causes for rash include autoimmune disorders that occur when the body is attacked by its own immune system, which normally serves to protect it from foreign invaders (antigens). Many viruses that occur during flu season, or those associated with childhood diseases, can produce rash.

Rashes can be caused by an allergic reaction to food, medications, lotions or detergents. These reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening, especially if swelling and constriction of breathing occurs, which could indicate anaphylaxis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a rash is accompanied by any of the following symptoms including swelling of the face, swelling or constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing, fainting, change in level of consciousness or alertness, pale skin, or purple rash.

Seek prompt medical care if a rash is persistent and causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with breast rash?

Breast rash may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause breast rash may also involve other body systems.

Related localized symptoms that may occur along with breast rash

Breast rash may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with breast rash

Breast rash may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, breast rash may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have breast rash along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Fever and chills

  • Joint pain and stiffness

  • Purple rash

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking

  • Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue

  • Tightness or constriction in the throat

  • Worsening of symptoms despite treatment

What causes breast rash?

Breast rash may have many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes such as stress.

Allergic or inflammatory causes of breast rash

Breast rash may be caused by contact dermatitis. Common triggers include:

  • Atopic dermatitis

  • Cosmetics, dyes or detergents

  • Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex and rubber

  • Metallic substances such as jewelry

  • Poison ivy or oak

Other allergic causes of breast rash include:

  • Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by allergy)

  • Food allergies (allergic reactions to certain foods)

  • Insect bite allergy such as a bee sting

Infectious causes of breast rash

Breast rash can also be caused by infections including:

Autoimmune causes of breast rash

Breast rash can also be caused by autoimmune disorders including:

Other causes of breast rash

Breast rash can be caused by other conditions including:

  • Extreme cold or heat

  • Mammary duct ectasia (dilation of a milk duct in the breast)

  • Mastitis (infection or inflammation of the breast)

  • Medications

  • Stress

  • Sunburn

Serious or life-threatening causes of breast rash

In some cases, rash may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of breast rash

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your breast rash including:

  • When did the rash begin?

  • Are you breastfeeding?

  • Are you taking any medications?

  • Do you have allergies?

  • Does the rash cause any itching or scaling?

  • Do you feel otherwise healthy?

  • Have you tried any new products recently, such as soaps, perfumes or sprays?

  • Have you spent a lot of time outdoors lately?

What are the potential complications of breast rash?

Because breast rash may be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. For example, infectious diseases, such as mumps or measles, can lead to rare but serious complications, including miscarriage, hearing loss, and serious brain infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Left untreated, mastitis can lead to an abscess in the breast, which must be drained and treated with antibiotics.

Once the underlying cause of your rash is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Arthritis

  • Cognitive difficulties

  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent hearing loss

  • Secondary infections, which may develop from scratching and related skin trauma

  • Spread of cancer

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  1. Skin rashes and other changes.
  2. Rashes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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