Itchy urethra or penis – the potential causes

A common symptom that isn’t always the result of STDs

Itchiness affecting the penis can cause serious discomfort and affect your day to day life whether it be an itchy urethra or itchiness across the entire genital region. It can also be the cause of embarrassment when trying to relieve your symptoms when the sensation gets too much to handle. Let’s face it, it’s not a problem that any of us want.

You will however be pleased to know that it’s not always caused by a sexually transmitted infection. In actual fact there aren’t too many STDs that will present themselves in this manner. Nevertheless, you’ll want to get to the bottom of the problem. To help we’ve outlined some potential causes, but you should always seek help from a GP if the problem persists.

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STDs that cause an itchy urethra and penis

We’ve already mentioned that there aren’t too many STDs that can cause an itchy urethra or penis. If your STD does show symptoms, it could be in the form of a burning sensation whilst urinating, lower abdominal pain, or discharge from the tip of the penis. There are however a small number of STDs which may cause irritation in the form of itching.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. It’s a lifelong sexually transmitted infection that can cause outbreaks of small red blisters that may pop to leave open sores. During outbreaks, when the blisters or sores pop, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. Unfortunately genital herpes cannot be cured and the only treatment centres around managing the symptoms. The condition is highly contagious and it can be passed from one person to another through skin-on-skin contact during sexual intercourse.

Genital warts

Genital warts are caused by a particular strain of human papillomavirus (HPV). These can be spread through skin on skin contact such as during sexual intercourse. Although they are not normally itchy, they can become itchy if you catch them. Although they disappear eventually on their own, you can also have them removed by your GP.

Urethritis caused by STDs

Urethritis is where the urethra becomes inflamed mainly causing discomfort or pain whilst urinating, or causing a more frequent urge to urinate. It can also cause an unpleasant itchiness of the urethra. Although urethritis is not an STD, it may be caused by one. If your itchy urethra or penis is accompanied by pain whilst urinating you may require a more complete sexual health screen against bacterial infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Our Profile 3 test can diagnose a range of bacteria which may be causing such symptoms.

What are the other potential causes of an itchy penis?

Now that we’ve explained the types of sexually transmitted infections that might cause an itchy penis, let’s take a look at some of the other possible explanations. Some of these conditions can be treated with over the counter medication, but if the symptoms persist for longer than a week you may need to see a GP.

Candidiasis (male thrush)

Candidiasis, also known as male thrush or yeast infection, is similar to thrush in women. It can develop around the head of the penis, under the foreskin or around the tip of the penis and may often cause redness or a rash. You may also notice white discharge that looks like cottage cheese under the foreskin. The condition can be extremely uncomfortable, causing a burning or itching sensation. Luckily there are a range of topical over the counter medications that can treat it.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an itchy rash that can occur if your skin comes into contact with an allergen. Because the skin around the genitals can often be sensitive, it can cause severe itching of the penis. You can usually treat contact dermatitis that is affecting your penis by removing the source of the allergic reaction. This may mean changing your shower gel, soap or clothes detergent.

Pubic lice

Although not directly affecting the penis, pubic lice are tiny parasitic mites that attach to the hair and skin in the pubic region. Although they are rare, they can be spread during sex or occur with poor hygiene. They can often bite the skin causing severe itchiness. There are a range of treatments available to treat them, including specials creams or soaps, or shaving the hair in the pubic region can also help.

Psoriasis, scabies or other general skin conditions

There are a number of skin conditions that can cause itchy skin, rashes, sores or dryness on any part of the body including the genitals. If you suffer from any of the following, you may notice the issue causing an itchy penis which can be incredibly uncomfortable. Topical creams can soothe the problem, or if it persists you may require stronger treatment.

  • Scabies – this is a condition where tiny mites burrow under the surface of the skin causing serious itchiness. It can affect any area of the body, including causing an itchy penis.
  • Psoriasis – this is another chronic skin condition that can affect the penis. Psoriasis is a condition where too many skin cells are created, causing scaly red patches on the surface of the skin.
  • Lichen planus – this is another skin condition that causes itchy flat topped bumps or blisters on the surface of the skin.
  • Eczema – this is a chronic skin condition that causes itchy, red, dry and cracked. It may affect the pubic region.

Jock itch

Jock itch is an itchy fungal infection that occurs in the genital area. It often occurs in hot weather if you’ve been wearing restrictive clothing such as jeans that can cause sweating, whilst it also affects people who sweat a lot whilst playing sport. Symptoms include a red rash around the genital region or buttocks. There are a range of treatments you can use to treat the problem – simply ask your local pharmacist.