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What Is a Subareolar Abscess?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 24, 2021

A subareolar abscess is a lump that forms on the breast. This lump can be painful and include swelling. The bump is a collection of pus. This is a common problem in lactating women. 

Subareolar abscesses can be painful. They can make your breast or surrounding area tender. The abscess forms under the skin. They’re typically caused by an infection. Subareolar abscesses usually come after untreated mastitis.

What to Know About a Subareolar Abscess?

A subareolar abscess is commonly referred to as a breast abscess. It is a common problem in breastfeeding or lactating women. A subareolar abscess begins as mastitis and then worsens. Mastitis happens when a lactation duct gets clogged with milk.

Mastitis causes redness and swelling in your breast. You may also have flu-like symptoms depending on the severity. When mastitis turns into an abscess it becomes a hard, red lump that is painful.

Subareolar abscesses are less frequent than mastitis. You’ll need treatment from your doctor when they are painful. In most cases, antibiotics will treat the infection and the lump will reduce on its own. Your doctor may need to use a needle to drain the abscess. They may need to make an incision in some cases.

When a subareolar abscess happens in a non-lactating person, including men, there might be another underlying cause. In non-lactating people, an abscess in your breast could indicate inflammatory carcinoma or new-onset diabetes. Your doctor will need to determine the cause. 

Symptoms of a Subareolar Abscess

A subareolar abscess is easy to identify. They usually follow infection in your breast. Your breast may be extra tender if you have an abscess.

The most common sign of a subareolar abscess is a red, painful lump in the breast. Other symptoms include:

You should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately if your abscess infection gets worse. You might experience the following if the subareolar abscess becomes infected:

  • Pus coming from the abscess
  • A slight inwardness of your nipple
  • An abnormal mammary duct (fistula)

‌‌These symptoms can worsen if untreated. You shouldn't wait to get help for your subareolar abscess.

Cause of Subareolar Abscess

A subareolar abscess occurs when a gland or duct under your areola skin becomes blocked or clogged. When the duct is clogged and untreated, an infection can occur.

Subareolar abscesses often develop after mastitis goes untreated. An abscess can be prevented by early treatment of infection.

Other less common causes of a subareolar abscess include diabetes, nipple piercings, and smoking. These factors put your breasts at increased risk of getting infected.

Managing a Subareolar Abscess

Most treatments for a subareolar abscess will require help from a doctor. There are some things you can do at home. There are other activities you should avoid because they could make your abscess worse. Your breast will be tender. You may find it difficult to manage your subareolar abscess on your own.

‌How to manage a breast abscess. Use a warm, damp towel on the infected area of your breast. If you feel a lump in your breast, talk to your doctor. Seek immediate attention if your nipple turns in on itself or if there’s drainage. Monitor your symptoms and the pain level in your breast.

What to avoid with a breast abscess. Keeping your breasts clean, especially during breastfeeding or lactation. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and guidance. Quick treatment of any infection is beneficial for your health.

Treatment

Treating a subareolar abscess is minimally invasive. Your doctor may request an ultrasound to determine the size and extent of the subareolar abscess. If antibiotics are not effective, your doctor will drain the infected area of your breast with a needle. This is to remove the pus and begin recovery from infection.

Continued

A subareolar abscess is easy to treat and easy to manage. They are common among lactating women and are not unusual. After treatment, you should feel quick relief as the pain and swelling of your abscess decrease.

However, in men or non-lactating people, there might be an underlying cause. It's best to seek quick treatment. Take steps to keep your breasts clean, and massage any clogged milk ducts.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

breast360.org: "Breast Abscess.”

Carle: "Breast Abscess."

Cleveland Clinic: “Breastfeeding? That Hot, Hard, Painful Lump in Your Breast Might Be an Abscess.”

MEDANTA: “Breast Abscess.”

MERCK MANUAL: “Breast Infection and Breast Abscess.”

Mount Sinai: “Subareolar abscess.”

NHS: “Breast abscess.”

nidirect: “Breast abscess.”

StatPearls: “Breast Abscess.”

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