Breasts undergo various changes throughout your lifecycle, during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond, nipples can change color, become darker or undergo various other changes as well. Breasts also are of different shape, size and color in different people. Its actually not the nipples but areola (area on the breast that’s darkening is the skin around the nipple).
There is nothing to panic if you suddenly look down and notice your nipples to be darker than normal. The various changes in a woman’s life at different stages induce nipples to change color as well. Major things that can make nipples dark include:
Pregnancy is the most critical part of a woman’s life and numerous changes occur within the body as she prepares for the delivery of her baby. Fetal growth in the womb is a strong indication for the breast to prepare itself for breastfeeding. Breasts become sore, they swell and become darker assuming that this makes it easier for the baby to identify the food source. Excess estrogen and progesterone hormones are produced to help in milk production and the breasts start changing in color and appearance as this hormone production increases. Soon after breastfeeding, darker nipples become light again.
Puberty is the time of life when breasts starts developing due to increase in estrogen production. Nipples also change in color, might become darker and become pointed or elevated from the surrounding skin as the breast develops.
Puberty initiates menstruation. Monthly ovulations change breast appearance at different points in the menstrual cycle. When you near your menstruation time, breasts also undergo changes-they become softer, swollen and nipples become darker when menstruation happens. Progesterone and estrogen hormones bear responsibility for these changes during periods that occur every 21-35 days.
Birth control pills too contain estrogen and progesterone in different proportions. These hormones are naturally produced by the body and when there is external supplementation too, they cause changes in the nipples in a similar way to puberty or menstruation. These clear away once you stop taking these oral contraceptives. Sometimes, these pills can also cause melasma which can form brown or grey skin pigment changes.
Babies are born with a poor vision and dark nipples are an indication to help the newborn locate the food source. Hormonal changes that enable milk production cause darker nipples, whether you would like to breastfeed or not! These nipples return to their normal color sometime after breastfeeding ends.
Individuals might have tiny hairs growing from their nipples due to various reasons mentioned at www.firsteatright.com and these hairs are darker than some other hair in the body. Such hairs give a dark appearance to the nipple when they grow close to the areola.
Breast cancer, the most predominant cancer form in women, can cause various changes in breast-size, shape, color, skin sores, inverted nipples, nipple discharge, pain and growing vein. Paget’s disease of breast starts in the nipple area bearing symptoms such as dark nipples, yellow or bloody nipple discharge, flattened nipple, itching or tingling sensation around the nipple and flaky/thick skin around the nipple. Any female after puberty can be attacked by this disease, but it is more commonly found in older adults.
A Matter of Concern
Life cycle developments and growth cause changes in the breast and nipples. Any abnormal changes such as peeling, flaking, redness, sores, itching, lumps, color changes in one nipple only and lumps indicate a bigger problem and it is crucial to meet a physician to get your breasts and nipples checked. Color changes often occur as a result of developmental changes such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding and these go away as smooth as they entered. Only if these color changes are accompanied by any other symptoms unrelated to the current event, it is necessary to meet a doctor.
It’s a Sunday morning and you wake up with lots of plans. You wish to start the day with the regular morning chore activities and open your mouth to brush. You witness the shock of your life as you see your tongue enveloped by a black coating that looks hairy. While the description sounds sneaky and scary, actually the scenario is quite harmless. This is what we call as ‘black, hairy tongue’ that is used to describe an abnormal black layer that covers the surface of your tongue. This is common when there is bacterial/fungi growth, abrasion or lack of stimulation (decreased saliva) in the tongue.
Why So Hairy?
The tongue comprises of hairy particles due to the buildup of a protein called keratin (this is the same one that nourishes your hair on the head too). In general, the tongue is covered with conical shaped projections called papillae that grow 1 millimeter in length and shed away normally in sometime. But in this case, the papillae start to lengthen, even growing up to 15 millimetre sometimes. When the papillae don’t shed it paves way for accumulation of food, bacteria and yeast too on the tongue surface making the tongue appear in different colors from white, pink and brown to green and black depending on the food you eat. Despite these color variations we call it ‘black hairy tongue’ because it is black in color most of the time due to bacteria and yeast accumulation.
There are several lifestyle factors and food habits that can lead to this condition and these include:
Except for the black hairs people don’t experience any other profound symptoms. Sometimes, some people might feel a burning sensation due to excess bacterial or yeast accumulation, some might feel a ticklish sensation on the roof of the mouth while swallowing food. Few others might suffer from bad breath or metallic taste as food might get entangled between the long papillae. While other symptoms might be present or absent, a physician can make a diagnosis based on clinical appearance.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to treat this condition. Brush your teeth twice a day and ensure to clean your tongue thoroughly using your toothbrush or a tongue cleaner. Try drinking as much water as possible and do eat all types of foods. Restricting your diet to soft foods don’t do any good as they don’t clean the tongue. Despite these measures, if the hairy layer still remains it is better to consult a physician. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to solve your problem. Rarely when none of these works, the papillae might require surgical removal.
To avoid problems in the first place, brush the top of the tongue daily when you brush your teeth. Make it a regular part of your routine oral care though some individuals might feel like throwing up while doing this. A person once affected by hairy tongue is at a greater risk of suffering repeatedly from the disease. It is better to remember that oral health gives the right insight into a person’s overall health. There are several studies supporting this, details of which are available in the website www.firsteatright.com. Take good care of your mouth to live a healthy life.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.