What is genital rash?
Although genital skin rashes can be related to noninfectious conditions, such as allergic reactions and contact dermatitis, many genital rashes are due to sexually transmitted infections. The area may be reddened with blisters or sores, or may retain its normal color but have noticeable bumps. Other symptoms, such as discharge, pain, burning with urination, or itching, may also occur.
Not all sexually transmitted infections cause genital rashes; the ones that most commonly do are herpes, syphilis, and human papilloma virus (HPV). Herpes typically causes clusters of painful red blisters that may be itchy. Syphilis may be associated with a solitary, painless, red sore on the genitals that may be followed by a rash on the hands and feet. Genital warts may develop as a result of HPV infection.
Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious disease caused by a virus that can be transmitted through contaminated objects, direct contact, and sexual contact. The rash associated with it consists of small, flesh-colored, painless bumps that often have a central plug of white, waxy material. Pubic lice and scabies can also be spread sexually and cause genital rash. Scratching can cause rash-like scabs and sores.
Genital rash treatment depends upon the cause. Syphilis is curable with antibiotics if treated early. Pubic lice and scabies are typically treated with topical solutions. Herpes and the human papilloma virus are not curable, but treatments are available that can help manage symptoms. Molluscum contagiosum goes away over a course of months to years without treatment; however, the individual bumps can be removed surgically or with topical medications. Sexual partners should be notified and treated as appropriate.
Sometimes genital rashes can be accompanied by conditions that can have serious or even life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have a high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) or severe abdominal or pelvic pain.
Since some causes of genital rashes are treatable, and because many can be spread to other people or lead to significant complications, if you develop a genital rash, you should seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with genital rash?
A genital rash may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that cause genital rashes can cause other genital symptoms or affect other body systems.
Genital symptoms that may occur along with genital rash
Genital rash may accompany other symptoms affecting the genitals including:
- Abnormal discharge
- Genital itching
- Genital pain or burning
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or burning with urination
- Ulcerations on the genitals
- Visible eggs or small insects crawling through the pubic hair
Other symptoms that may occur along with genital rash
Genital rash may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Pelvic pain
- Rash on the hands and feet or elsewhere on the body
- Ulcerations of the groin
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, genital rash may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
What causes genital rash?
Genital rashes can be caused by non-infectious conditions, such as allergic reactions, irritation, or inflammation, or by infectious conditions. Many of the infectious conditions are spread sexually, although some are not.
Infectious causes of genital rash
Genital rash may be caused by infections including:
Erythrasma (superficial Corynebacterium minutissimum skin infection of moist skin areas)
Granuloma inguinale (sexually transmitted infection that is rare in the United States)
Human papilloma virus (HPV, the virus that causes genital warts)
Molluscum contagiosum (skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus)
Pubic lice (also called “crabs”; parasitic insects that live in the pubic hair)
Syphilis (sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum)
Tinea cruris (“jock itch” or “ringworm of the groin”; fungal skin infection)
Other causes of genital rash
Genital rash can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:
Chemical irritants, such as soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, or creams
Folliculitis (irritation and ingrown hairs following pubic hair shaving)
Lichen simplex chronicus (chronic skin condition associated with itching and scratching and thickening of the skin)
Psoriasis (itchy skin condition associated with skin irritation and redness, often with areas of thickened, red skin with white flaky patches)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of genital rash
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your genital rash including:
When did you first notice the genital rash?
Have you changed soaps or detergents lately or started using any feminine hygiene products?
Have you had a genital rash before?
Is there anything that seems to make it better or worse?
Do you have any other symptoms?
Have you been intimate with anyone who has similar symptoms?
Are other areas of your body affected?
What medications are you taking?
Because genital rash can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
Tissue scarring and skin disfigurement
Secondary or tertiary syphilis (complications of untreated syphilis, including rashes, heart disease, neurologic disease, or tumors of the skin, bone or liver)
Secondary skin infection (infection that develops on top of the current condition, often due to scratching)
Spread of infectious disease to close contact or sexual partner
Susceptibility to additional sexually transmitted infections