Eczema is used to describe a group of inflammatory skin conditions. Nearly 32 million Americans are affected by at least one type of eczema.

These conditions make your skin red, itchy, flaky, and cracked. They can appear almost anywhere on your body, including the shaft of your penis and the nearby genital area.

Eczema can take several forms on your penis, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis. This form appears suddenly as a rash or itchy bumps. It can be present from birth or have no obvious cause.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis. This condition results from contact with an allergen or chemical. Possible irritants include condoms, underwear, or athletic equipment that touches your penis.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This type of eczema appears in areas with a lot of oil glands. It’s more common on the scalp, but it can also appear on your penis.

Read on to learn more about what symptoms to watch for, how to find relief at home, when to see your doctor, and more.

The most common symptoms that appear in any type of eczema include:

  • rash or red, bumpy skin
  • itchiness or sensitivity around the rash
  • skin dryness
  • patches of reddish, brownish, or grayish skin
  • small blisters that may burst open and release fluid
  • thick or scaly skin

Some of these symptoms can also appear when you’ve contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as genital warts, genital herpes, or human immunodeficiency virus.

Other early STI symptoms include:

  • unusual penile discharge
  • bleeding
  • headache
  • body ache
  • fever
  • chills
  • swollen lymph nodes

Eczema only affects your skin. It doesn’t cause any other symptoms in your reproductive system. If you’re only experiencing a skin rash, dryness, or blistering, and you haven’t had sex with a new partner recently, it’s probably an eczema flare-up.

If you notice these symptoms right after your penis touches certain materials, it’s likely irritant contact dermatitis.

You should see your doctor if you experience these symptoms after sex or without an obvious cause.

Eczema is caused by your genetics and environment.

Many people affected by eczema have a mutation in the gene responsible for creating filaggrin. This protein creates a protective barrier on the top layer of skin. If your body doesn’t create enough filaggrin, moisture can leave the skin and bacteria can enter.

Environmental triggers can compound this reaction. Triggers — such as latex — cause your immune system to produce an exaggerated inflammatory response, resulting in a flare-up.

Other possible triggers include:

  • chemicals in soaps or shampoos
  • clothing materials, such as polyester or wool
  • antibacterial substances in ointments or wet wipes
  • cigarette smoke
  • metals
  • formaldehyde

Eczema isn’t communicable. You can’t spread eczema through sexual intercourse or by touching someone with your penis. You don’t need to take extra precautions during a flare-up, but sex may be more uncomfortable if you’re experiencing severe symptoms.

Scratching a rash can lead to open cuts, sores, and blisters, which can get infected. Active penis infections can be spread through unprotected sex. You should wear a condom or avoid having sex until you’ve completed antibiotic treatment.

If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to find relief with home remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. You can:

Use a cold compress. Dampen a cloth or towel with cold water, fold or wrap the towel up, and press it gently against your affected penis skin. Do this as needed for about 20 minutes at a time. You can also wrap an ice pack or something frozen, like a bag of vegetables, in a towel.

Sit in an oatmeal bath. Add about 1 cup of colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath to help reduce itchiness. You can also make a bowl of oatmeal as you normally would, apply about a tablespoon to the affected area, and cover it with a bandage.

Use an anti-itch cream. Apply an OTC itch cream with at least 1 percent hydrocortisone for itch relief. You can also apply the cream to a bandage and wrap the bandage around the itchy area. Don’t use hydrocortisone cream for longer than seven days unless directed by your care provider.

Take OTC allergy medications. Take a mild allergy medication, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or cetirizine (Zyrtec), for allergic dermatitis. Don’t take medications that cause drowsiness if you need to drive or be mentally focused.

See your doctor right away if you notice eczema symptoms along with:

  • clear or cloudy discharge from the penis
  • fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • difficulty urinating
  • pain when urinating
  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • pain or swelling in your testicles

You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within a week. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and advise you on any next steps.

Your doctor should be able diagnose eczema simply by looking at the rash. If you’re experiencing other unusual symptoms, they may scrape off a small sample of your skin (biopsy) to determine whether you’re experiencing eczema or another underlying condition.

If your doctor makes an eczema diagnosis, they may prescribe one or more of the following to help treat eczema flare-ups:

Calcineurin inhibitors. These medications modify your flare-up immune response. Common prescriptions include pimecrolimus (Elidel) and tacrolimus (Protopic).

Inflammation control. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone (Deltasone), help treat inflammation.

Antibiotics. If you have an infected cut or sore, your doctor will likely prescribe a two-week course of flucloxacillin (Floxapen) or erythromycin (Ery-Tab).

Injectable treatments. If your skin isn’t responding to other treatments, your doctor may recommend dupilumab (Dupixent). This injectable medication is usually only used for severe eczema, as it’s expensive and still being tested for long-term use.

Phototherapy. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend exposing your skin to certain ultraviolent lights to help relieve symptoms.

Scratching itchy areas can lead to open cuts or sores, which can increase your risk of infections. One possible infection is herpes simplex, which is lifelong.

Other complications of eczema can include:

  • permanently thick, scaly skin from constant scratching
  • chronic asthma
  • hay fever

Eczema flare-up symptoms usually last a few days before they ease up. Flare-ups aren’t always predictable, and some flare-ups may be more uncomfortable than others.

You may be able to reduce your risk for flare-ups if you:

Learn your triggers. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for allergens. If you know that you’re allergic to pollen, mold, chemicals, or other materials, you should avoid them as much as possible.

Don’t wear tight, scratchy underwear or pants. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable underwear and pants to prevent the skin from getting more irritated. Wear clothes that allow your genital area to breathe to avoid excessive sweating, which can also irritate your penis.

Use a natural lotion or ointment. Apply to your penis twice daily to keep your skin moisturized and prevent cracking.

Don’t use harsh soaps or hot water. Bathe regularly in warm water, as hot water can dry out your skin. Keep your showers to 10–15 minutes, and avoid soaps full of scents and chemicals that can dry out your skin. Stick with mild, natural soaps.

Keep your indoor humidity levels balanced. Use a humidifier to keep the air moist and prevent skin dryness.