What causes red spots on the penis?
In this article, we look at some of the conditions that might be causing red spots on the penis.
Eczema (Atopic dermatitis)
Image credit: CDC/ Susan Lindsley, 1977.
Image credit: CDC/ Susan Lindsley, 1978.
Image credit: CDC/ N. J. Flumara, Dr. Gavin Hart, 1976.
Image credit: Grook Da Oger, 2010.
Image credit: CDC/ Susan Lindsley, 1976.
Image credit: CDC/ Susan Lindsley, 1976.
Image credit: Hstidst, 2017.
Image credit: Freakedenough, 2019.
Image credit: CDC/ Robert Sumpter, 1967.
Image credit: CDC/ Dr N. J. Fiumara, 1976.
Image credit: Dogad75, 2015.
Image credit: CDC/ M. Rein, MD, University of Virginia, Susan Lindsley, 1975.
Image credit: Gerardolagunes, 2018.
Image credit: Evan Herk, 2005.
Image credit: Mohammad2018, 2018.
1. Genital eczema
People with genital eczema may experience the following symptoms:
- severe itchiness
- sore skin
- a red rash on the penis or genitals
People should see a doctor to check whether they have genital eczema or another condition.
Treatment may include topical steroids or emollients, which people can use in place of their usual soap to wash.
Some skin care products, including shower gel, antiseptic solutions, and hemorrhoid creams, can irritate genital skin and cause eczema. Some people find that even the laundry detergent that they use to wash their clothes can cause eczema. Sweating and friction from tight clothing are also potential causes.
Genital eczema can sometimes be due to a contact allergy, which spermicides and latex condoms can trigger in some people.
Avoiding harsh cleaning products and wearing loose clothing during treatment may help relieve symptoms.
2. Genital herpes
People may not notice any symptoms, or they may only have very mild symptoms. Red blisters are the main symptom of genital herpes. These blisters may appear on and around the genitals, and they can sometimes burst, leaving sores.
People may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a fever, and swollen glands, during a herpes outbreak.
Herpes is not curable, but people can take medication to prevent outbreaks of blisters and lessen the chances of passing the infection on to sexual partners.
3. Genital psoriasis
To treat red spots on the penis, only try medication or skin care products that are safe for use in the genital region.
Treatment options can include:
- coal tar — mild strength only
- calcipotriene cream
People should only use medication specifically for use on the genitals. Using general psoriasis cream on the genitals can damage the delicate skin on this part of the body.
Genital psoriasis is not contagious, but if the skin feels sore, people may want to wait before having sex.
Washing the penis before and after having sex and applying a moisturizer for sensitive skin can help prevent irritation.
- inflammation of the glans
- a rash, which appears as blotchy red or purple patches on the glans or under the foreskin
- discharge, which may smell
- itchiness or discomfort
Balanitis can happen due to:
- a yeast infection
- certain STIs, such as herpes
- soaps or spermicides that irritate the skin
- skin conditions, including psoriasis
Diabetes can also cause balanitis when it results in excess sugar in the urine, which can encourage bacterial growth on the glans and under the foreskin.
The type of treatment will depend on what is causing balanitis. Options may include:
- antifungal cream to treat a yeast infection
- antibiotics for a bacterial infection
- keeping the area clean and dry to reduce inflammation
Practicing good hygiene and cleaning under the foreskin can help reduce the risk of balanitis.
Syphilis is an STI that can cause red sores on and around the penis. There are four stages of syphilis, each of which has different symptoms:
- Primary syphilis: Round, firm, often painless sores around the genitals, anus, or mouth.
- Secondary syphilis: A rash on the body, swollen glands, a fever, and fatigue.
- Latent stage: No symptoms.
- Tertiary syphilis: Infection spreads to the nervous system and internal organs.
It is vital that people get treatment for syphilis. Without treatment, it can cause serious health problems and even be life-threatening.
Antibiotics can treat syphilis, but some of the damage that it does is not reversible.
Scabies mites cause scabies when they infest the skin. People can get scabies from having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the infestation, including during sexual intercourse.
Scabies can cause an itchy rash to appear on the penis. The rash may look like small pimples, scales, or blisters, and the itching can be particularly severe at night.
Scabies mites dig burrows under the layers of the skin to lay their eggs. These appear as raised, white, or skin-colored lines on the surface of the skin.
A doctor can prescribe scabies medications called scabicides to kill the scabies mites. People can apply scabicides topically all over their body, usually from the neck downward.
7. Jock itch
Jock itch is a fungal infection that causes itchiness and a red rash on the penis. It can spread to the rest of the genital area, buttocks, and inner thighs. People may also feel a burning sensation in the groin area.
Topical antifungal creams can help treat fungal infections, including jock itch. If these are not effective and the infection continues, people may need to see a doctor for stronger oral medications.
Maintaining good hygiene and wearing loose clothing in hot weather can also help relieve symptoms during treatment.
8. Molluscum contagiosum
A person who suspects that they have molluscum contagiosum should speak to a doctor about treatment options.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that causes red, pink, or skin-colored raised spots to appear on the penis or genitals.
These bumps on the skin are the only sign of molluscum contagiosum. They are not typically painful, but they may be itchy.
The virus can pass easily through direct skin-to-skin contact, and it thrives in hot and humid climates.
Treatment can help remove the bumps and stop the virus from spreading, but it is not always effective. The bumps often go away without treatment over time.
Treatment options for molluscum contagiosum include:
- freezing the bumps off
- using laser therapy to remove the bumps
- applying topical medication to destroy the bumps
9. Drug rashes
Some medications can cause an allergic reaction that creates rashes on certain areas of the body.
For example, ingredients in some antibiotics can cause Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which leads to the formation of blisters on the penis that can spread to other areas of the body.
Drug rashes usually clear up once people stop taking the medication. However, people may need to take another medicine, such as a corticosteroid or antihistamine, to help clear the rash.
Rashes and allergic reactions to drugs can have serious symptoms, so if a person notices a rash on their body after starting a new medication, they should see their doctor.
10. Bowenoid papulosis
One type of human papillomavirus can cause Bowenoid papulosis, which is an STI. It appears as small red, brown, or purple spots on the penis or anus.
Bowenoid papulosis can often clear up on its own within a few months, but some people may need treatment. Treatment options include:
- topical cream
- laser surgery
- cryosurgery, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the unhealthy tissue
In rare cases, Bowenoid papulosis can lead to Bowen disease, which is an early form of penile cancer.
People with Bowenoid papulosis should see their doctor if the condition does not improve with treatment.
Practicing good hygiene by washing the penis regularly and changing clothes after exercising or when in hot weather can help reduce the risk of infection.
Those with an uncircumcised penis should also take care to clean under the foreskin to prevent bacteria from building up.
Using a condom during sex can help lower the risk of contracting and passing on STIs.
There are many possible causes of red spots on the penis, most of which are highly treatable.
People should see their doctor if red spots on the penis do not go away, the spots cause severe itchiness or pain, or there are signs of infection.
Anyone who experiences a rash that spreads rapidly, occurs alongside fever, or begins to blister should seek medical help straight away.