A genital rash is a skin symptom that can be caused by a number of health problems and can occur on any part of the male or female genital area. Rashes are normally reddish in color, may be painful or itchy, and may include bumps or sores. If you experience any skin rash that you cannot explain, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.
There are many possible causes for a genital rash, ranging from infections that are treatable to a sexually transmitted disease, allergies, and autoimmune disorders. Some of the most common causes of genital rashes are infections:
- Jock itch is a fungal infection, or ringworm of the groin area. The rash is red, itchy, scaly, and may blister.
- Diaper rash is a yeast infection that affects babies because of the warm, moist environment in the diaper. It is red, scaly, and may include bumps or blisters.
- Vaginal yeast infection is an infection that affects women and often occurs as a result of taking antibiotics. It causes itching, redness, swelling, and a white discharge.
- Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that affects the skin and presents as firm, round bumps. They may be itchy and inflamed.
- Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin or the head of the penis that is most often caused by poor hygiene. It causes itchiness, redness, and a discharge.
Infecting parasites are another possible cause of a genital rash:
- Pubic lice are tiny insects. They lay eggs in the genital area and are most often spread from person to person through sexual contact. They are most commonly seen in teenagers. An infestation of pubic lice causes itchiness, and sometimes sores.
- Body lice are a different type of insect from pubic lice, and are larger. They live in clothing and on the skin, and feed on blood. They cause an itchy rash on the skin.
- Scabies is an itchy skin rash that is caused by a very small mite. It burrows into the skin and causes intense itching, especially at night.
Allergies and autoimmune disorders are other possible causes of a genital rash:
- Contact dermatitis is a common type of rash caused when skin comes into contact with an allergen or with an irritant like a harsh chemical substance. Latex is an allergen that may produce a rash in the genital area because many condoms are made of this material.
- Psoriasis is a common skin condition. The cause is unknown, but doctors suspect it is an autoimmune disorder. It produces a pinkish, scaly, itchy rash anywhere on the body. In men, psoriasis may also produce sores in the genital area.
- Lichen planus is less common, but also produces itchy skin rashes. Doctors are unsure of the exact cause, but it is thought to be an allergen or an autoimmune disorder. In the genital area, lichen planus can produce sores.
- Reiter syndrome, or reactive arthritis, is a group of arthritic conditions that may produce sores and rashes. The cause is unknown.
Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are a likely cause of genital rashes for anyone who does not practice safe sex:
- Genital herpes is a virus that can produce painful, blister-like sores in the genital area.
- Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus. They are small and flesh-colored, and may be itchy.
- Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread through sexual contact. It produces a rash that can be anywhere on the body. The rash is not necessarily itchy.
The treatment needed for a genital rash depends on the underlying cause. Regardless of the cause, however, the itchiness of a rash can be treated with over-the-counter creams, such as hydrocortisone. Your doctor may also prescribe you a cream to reduce the symptom while also treating the underlying condition.
Some skin infections will heal without treatment, as long as the affected area is kept clean and dry. Vaginal yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Genital warts are treated with prescription medications or by having the warts removed. Genital herpes cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with medications.
Both pubic and body lice can be eliminated with a medicated wash. To keep them from re-infesting, you should wash clothing and bedding in hot water. Scabies can be treated with medicated creams or lotions.
For allergic reactions, eliminating the allergen will allow the rash to clear up and will prevent further outbreaks. For autoimmune disorders, there is no cure, but there are medications, such as those that suppress the immune system, that can help control symptoms.
For most rashes, the outlook is very good. In most cases, the underlying cause can be treated and the rash will clear up. With the right care, parasites and infections that are not STIs can be cured and prevented with good hygiene.
Conditions that have no cure, such as genital herpes or autoimmune disorders, can be successfully controlled with the right medications. Syphilis, if caught early, can be cured easily with penicillin. If found later, additional courses of the antibiotics may be needed.