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The flat, brown part of the breast surrounding the nipple is called the areola. It is darker than the rest of the breast tissue as it outlines the location of the mammary glands which are situated just underneath it. The mammary glands are responsible for the secretion of milk which is ejected out through the nipples after traversing through a network of lobules and ducts.

What are Montgomery glands?

Located just below the surface of the skin in the areolar region of each breast are five to twenty Montgomery glands. These glands are named after the Irish obstetrician William Fatherstone Montgomery, who tried to find out their basic role way back in 1800s. He found out that whenever these glands are stimulated, while breastfeeding or otherwise, they release an oily secretion.

Role of the Montgomery glands

Nipples are sensitive areas which tend to get affected by any irritation of the skin surrounding them or by dryness present in the atmosphere. The Montgomery glands are stimulated in such conditions and stand out as bumps on the skin of the areola. Their secretion keeps the nipples moisturized and protects them from environmental dryness. These secretions also produce a physical barrier between the nipples and the outside world, and prevent foreign materials like bacteria from entering the milk ducts through the nipples and infecting them.

Conditions where Montgomery glands may cause bumps on the areolar skin

Some of the common conditions where Montgomery glands may lead to bumps on the skin of the areola include:

  • When a woman is sexually aroused or when she is suddenly exposed to a cold environment.
  • Mastitis: The Montgomery glands work overtime during lactation to prevent the entry of bacteria into the milk ducts, and are often seen as bumps on the skin of the areola in women who are breastfeeding. There are times when there is incomplete emptying of milk from the breast tissue in lactating women. The milk that remains in the milk ducts may attract infection. Bacteria may gain entry into the milk ducts despite the secretions from the Montgomery glands. Infected mammary glands in women who are breastfeeding is called mastitis. It is a very painful condition that often requires medical attention. Lubrication of the nipples, with the help of creams, is required to complement the secretion from the Montgomery glands.
  • Jogger's nipple: Apart from infection, another condition which causes the Montgomery glands to stand out is excessive irritation of the nipple and its surrounding skin because of any reason. The irritation may be because of wearing a wrong sized bra or clothes that are too tight fitting. It may also be a condition known as Jogger's nipple. The condition is named so because it is commonly encountered in women who jog a lot. The Montgomery glands get irritated due to constant friction with a sports bra or shirt. The nipples become dry and sore, and may bleed. The condition may involve one or both the breasts. Applying lubricants may be of some help as it reduces friction.

It is rare for any condition to affect the Montgomery glands alone. Normally, the problems that affect these glands also affect the surrounding tissue and the underlying mammary glands as well.

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