A genital rash typically refers to a spread of bumps, lesions, or irregular patches of skin on the genitals. Understanding the causes and symptoms of genital rashes can help to properly diagnose and treat them.
There are many causes for genital rashes, some more concerning than others. Most people find that they can identify the cause quickly, with the help of a doctor, and can take action to treat it.
Lice can cause an itchy rash on the skin of the genitals. Scabies is the name of the rash caused by tiny skin mites. These mites burrow into the skin, causing a rash and intense itching.
Infections are another common culprit for genital rashes. According to one study, up to 20 percent of the world's population is affected by fungal skin infections.
The condition commonly called jock itch is one of those frequently seen by doctors.
The red, itchy rash is the result of ringworm and may blister and get worse if not taken care of.
Yeast infections and fungal overgrowth
Yeast infections occur most often in women and uncircumcised men, where the sex organs produce the perfect breeding ground for a yeast called Candida. Often this can be caused by taking antibiotics. It can also be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.
Yeast infections cause the skin to be swollen, itchy, and red. A white substance may discharge from the vagina or build up around the head of the penis.
A yeast infection in men may turn into balanitis, which is an inflammation of the head and foreskin of the penis. As well as yeast infection, balanitis can be caused by poor hygiene, overuse of antibiotics, or an impaired immune system.
The common diaper rash is a form of yeast infection as well. A baby's diaper provides the ideal warm, damp environment that the fungus thrives in.
A diaper rash is usually red, rough, and scaly. It may also produce blisters or irritation bumps if the child moves around.
Image credit: Evanherk, 2005, July 7.
This is a skin infection caused by the virus of the same name. People infected with Molluscum contagiosum will experience small raised bumps on the upper layers of the skin.
These bumps are usually painless and disappear on their own. They are caused by contact with the lesion of an infected person or by touching a contaminated object, such as a towel or toy.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted virus that creates painful open sores and blisters on the genitals. It is contracted through sexual contact with an infected person.
These sores are often painful and may be accompanied by discharges. People often have tingling before the sores appear.
Although it is a bacterial infection, syphilis is actually spread through sexual contact.
After the initial symptom of a single non-painful open sore, the infection produces a rash that can surface anywhere on the body, including the genitals.
The shape of these bumps can vary; they may be large, small, wide and flat, or irregularly shaped. The color may range from very white to the person's normal skin color.
In addition to the groin, the warts commonly appear on the vulva and around the anus in women. In men, the warts are commonly found on the penis, scrotum, and anus.
Autoimmune conditions like psoriasis can also cause the symptoms of a genital rash.
Psoriasis causes the rapid buildup of skin cells. This often leads to a thick, scaly appearance on the affected skin, and inflammation and redness is a common symptom.
The affected skin may also crack and bleed in some cases.
Contact dermatitis and allergies
Another possible cause of a genital rash is an allergic reaction to something applied to the skin. This may be a skin moisturizer, lubricant, or even the material in specific underwear.
A rash can also be caused by a harsh substance transferring from the hands to the genitals if a person does not wash their hands before using the bathroom.
Symptoms and diagnosis
There are many different symptoms of a genital rash, which vary based on the cause of the rash.
Common symptoms include:
- sores, bumps, blisters, or lesions on the skin on and surrounding the genitals
- thickening of affected skin
- irritation or inflammation
- itching or burning sensations
- discolored skin ranging from pink, red, or yellow
- discharge from the genitals
- pain during intercourse
- pelvic pain
- enlarged lymph nodes
In any case, where the cause of the rash is unknown, it is important to see a doctor or dermatologist for a proper diagnosis. A full diagnosis will include a physical examination as the doctor needs to know the specifics about the rash to be able to treat it.
Doctors may also perform a swab test on discharge or on the surface of lesions to check for specific infectious causes. In some cases, a doctor may also want to do a skin scrape, where they take a small piece of a lesion or wart to be investigated. Other cases may require blood work to be done as well.
While there are home tests that can be used to check for the presence of some STDs, the most reliable way to diagnose any genital rash is by seeing a doctor.
There are many different treatments for a genital rash, each influenced by its cause. There are some common threads through all of these treatments.
Treatments for genital rashes depend on the cause of the rash, but include topical cream and medicated ointments.
For instance, while waiting to be diagnosed by a doctor, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or spray may help with itchy rashes. Doctors commonly prescribe creams such as these to treat symptoms while they are investigating an exact cause.
Body lice and pubic lice are usually removed with a medicated wash. This is left on the genitals for a long time to kill the infestation, and then rinsed away. Scabies is usually treated with medicated ointments and creams.
Treating yeast infections is done with antifungal medications, which come as creams and powders with pills rarely necessary for rashes. Yeast infections are also treated using home remedies, such as yogurt or oregano oil. According to one study, oregano oil shows promise in getting rid of the fungus that causes yeast infection.
Cases of genital warts are either treated with prescription medications or by removing them with liquid nitrogen. The best option is for a doctor to remove them.
Bacterial infections like syphilis are treated with antibiotics.
There is no known cure for genital herpes, but the symptoms are often controlled with medications.
Similarly, there are no known cures for autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, but some medications help control the symptoms caused by the disorder.
If the genital rash is due to an allergy, removing the allergen will usually allow it to clear up. The symptoms can be treated in the meantime, and a doctor can run allergy tests if the exact allergen is unknown.
Preventing a genital rash
Practicing safe sex will help avoid rashes caused by STIs. Eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising will keep the immune system strong and help to fight off germs. Allergic reactions can be prevented by avoiding the things that trigger the allergies.
For many causes of a genital rash, the symptoms can be removed by treating the underlying cause. Even conditions that have no known cure can be successfully controlled with medications.
By working directly with a doctor to diagnose and treat the rash, the outlook for most cases is good.