Although uncommon, shingles may develop on the penis and lead to unique signs and symptoms, like a feeling of pins and needles. Prompt medical advice is encouraged to prevent complications.

Shingles usually causes rashes that appear as clusters of small oozing blisters. It may affect males and females. The rash usually develops on one side of the front or back of your torso, but it may also appear on one side of your face.

Although very uncommon, shingles in males can potentially develop around and on the penis.

The varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles. You can only get shingles if you’ve had the chickenpox virus at some point in your life.

More than 99% of people born before 1980 have had chickenpox. Chickenpox symptoms generally clear up within 2 weeks. Even once the itchy spots go away, the varicella-zoster virus lays dormant in your spinal or cranial nerves.

When and if the virus reactivates, it causes shingles. Shingles manifests more frequently in your torso, but it could also develop anywhere in your body, including your face and genital area.

Most people develop shingles after the age of 50, and about half of the cases are in people over 60.

You may get shingles if you have a weakened immune system because of medications, chronic conditions, or severe stress.

About a third of U.S. adults develop shingles at some point in their life, but only a handful of case studies in medical literature describe people developing shingles on their penis.

The shingles virus travels along nerve pathways. The penis may be affected by shingles if the nerve that supplies sensation to it is affected by the varicella-zoster virus.

The skin area that receives sensory information from a nerve is called a dermatome. Dermatomes usually cover an area from the spine toward the side and front of the body. Shingles usually appears in one or two side-by-side dermatomes.

The S2 and S3 nerves, at the level of the sacrum bone, control sensory information from and to the penis. If the shingles virus is activated in these nerves, you may develop shingles on your penis, buttocks, groin, or thighs — all areas supplied by the same nerve.

Your sacral nerves carry sensory information from your:

  • lower back
  • buttocks
  • back of legs
  • outer toes
  • genitals
  • heels

Penile shingles may feel and look like genital herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It can be difficult to diagnose based on visual inspection alone and only a healthcare professional may provide you an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of shingles on the penis may include:

  • paresthesia (pins and needles sensations)
  • altered sensation in the glans penis (penile tip)
  • a painful rash that can extend to your groin and last for up to 5 weeks
  • small blisters in the rash area
  • bleeding or oozing shingles lesions
  • localized pain that may be mild to severe
  • itchiness

Before a rash is visible, you may notice irritation in the area for up to 10 days. This may include being warmer to the touch, itching, and burning sensations. You may feel as if something on your clothing is constantly irritating your skin.

Pain may peak as the rash develops. Shingles itching and pain may still occur even after the rash has resolved.

General early symptoms of shingles may also include:

  • fever
  • stomach discomfort
  • headache
  • chills

Shingles that affects your sacral nerves can also lead to bowel or bladder incontinence.

Shingles is highly contagious if someone comes in direct contact with your rash. If they’ve never had chickenpox, they may develop it after exposure to the virus. If they had chickenpox, they may develop shingles instead.

Case studies of penile shingles

Case studies of shingles on the penis are rare. A 2015 case study describes a 31-year-old man who developed a pins and needles sensation on his penis for 2 days before developing a rash that lasted for 10 days. He noticed a similar rash on his left thigh 3 days later.

A 2013 study describes a 67-year-old man who developed fatigue, pain in his urethra when urinating, and frequent urination that didn’t respond to antibiotics. When he went to the doctor, they also discovered he had penile numbness and a rash on his left buttock corresponding with his S2 and S3 dermatomes.

It’s important to seek medical attention as soon as you notice the first symptoms of shingles. A healthcare professional may want to prescribe antiviral medications within the first 72 hours of the infection. You may still not have a rash but may notice differences in skin coloring, texture, and sensation.

Medications will not prevent or cure shingles, but shingles treatment may reduce its severity and duration.

About 10–18% of people with shingles develop long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Antiviral treatment may decrease your chances of prolonged pain.

A doctor may also want to assess the cause of your symptoms and rule out other conditions like STIs.

Shingles is a viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It causes a cluster of rashes or blisters, usually on your torso, waist, or face. In rare cases, it can develop on your penis.

If you think you may have shingles, or if you have an unidentified penile rash, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention for a proper diagnosis and to minimize your chances of developing complications.