11 causes of an itchy groin and how to relieve them
What causes an itchy groin?
There are many causes of an itchy groin. General irritation from clothes, washing products, or chafing may cause itching. If the itching is persistent, fungal infections, STIs, or skin conditions such as psoriasis may be the cause and would require treatment.
1. Fungal infections
What are fungal infections and how do you get them?
A fungal infection of the groin, otherwise known as ‘jock itch’, is a common ailment for athletes. The medical name is tinea cruris and the fungus that causes it is Trichophyton rubrum. The groin is a warm and moist area of the body, making it the perfect environment for fungus to grow. That’s why it’s more common in athletes as they tend to sweat more.
This fungal infection causes a red, itchy, sore rash that affects both sides of the groin and can spread further down the leg. It’s a contagious infection, so you can get it from sharing things like towels. The same fungus can cause athlete’s foot, and this has the potential to spread from the feet to the groin. Not drying properly after washing or changing underwear daily can cause fungus to multiply on the skin.
Who do fungal infections affect?
You’re more likely to get jock itch if you’re male because moisture can get trapped between the thighs and scrotum. Those who are overweight, play sports or have a compromised immune system are also at a higher risk of developing jock itch.
Other body areas fungal infections could affect
Fungi love anywhere warm, moist and not exposed to air. This is usually in places where the skin folds such as the armpits, breasts and toes. It’s possible that a groin fungal infection can spread to other areas and vice versa.
How to relieve fungal infections and when to see a GP
Whilst treating a fungal infection of the groin, it’s important to keep the area clean and dry to prevent the fungus from multiplying and spreading further. You should also use your own towel until the infection has cleared to avoid passing it on to others.
See your GP if you have persistent itching of the groin, and the skin is inflamed, red and sore. Antifungal medicines are the usual method of treatment. Terbinafine, clotrimazole, econazole, miconazole and ketoconazole are the active ingredients to look out for.
Ketoconazole is found in Daktarin Gold, a cream that’s applied to the affected area. It works by destroying the fungus causing the infection and stopping it from multiplying. Ketoconazole can be used to treat jock itch, athlete’s foot and sweat rash.
It can take around 2-3 weeks to clear a groin fungal infection with ketoconazole, and it can also protect against recurring infections.
2. Yeast infection
What is a yeast infection and how do you get it?
Yeast infections are essentially a type of fungal infection. Itchiness down below might be caused by a yeast infection such as thrush. An overgrowth of the yeast called candida albicans is the cause of thrush infections and this can affect areas of the skin such as between the fingers, armpits and groin, but it commonly affects the genitals.
Women are more prone to a vaginal thrush infection. The symptoms include itching and irritation around the vagina, thick, white, odourless discharge, and pain and discomfort during sex and when peeing.
Like all fungal infections, thrush develops in warm, moist areas. Although it’s not a sexually transmitted infection, it can be triggered by sex. It’s also prevalent during pregnancy, in those who have poorly controlled diabetes, a weakened immune system, or are taking medication such as antibiotics or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
How to relieve yeast infections and when to see a GP
To relieve itching associated with thrush, you need to treat the infection. First, however, you must see your GP to be officially diagnosed if it is the first time you have had thrush or if you are under 16 or over 60.
Once you have been tested and diagnosed, you’ll probably be offered an antifungal medication in the form of an oral capsule known as fluconazole or an antifungal cream or vaginal pessary, especially if it's affecting the vagina and surrounding area. If you have had thrush before and you recognise the symptoms, you can treat yourself at home with the medicines just mentioned.
What is psoriasis and how do you get it?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes patches of flaky and scaly patches on the skin that are pink or red in colour, with white or silver scales. These patches can be itchy and sore and the severity varies from person to person.
It happens because the body overproduces skin cells at a faster rate than what is considered normal. Usually, your body makes and replaces skin cells every 3 to 4 weeks, but having psoriasis means this happens every 3 to 7 days.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition and there are a number of reasons why it causes the skin cell process to work faster. People develop psoriasis due to an abnormality in the immune system, and essentially, it doesn’t work as it should.
Rather than attacking infections and diseases, the immune system mistakes healthy skin cells for a threat and attacks them, prompting the body to keep making new cells.
Who does psoriasis affect?
This condition can affect men or women and it typically develops between the ages of 20 and 30 or 50 and 60.
Other areas of the body psoriasis could affect
Psoriasis tends to show on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp. However, it can affect the groin and genitals, too. Psoriasis in this area may look different. On the genitals it can look bright red, and there might not be the typical white scales that we associate with psoriasis.
On the groin, it may look like a yeast infection. That’s why you’ll need a diagnosis from your GP to determine what’s causing your itchy groin.
How to relieve psoriasis and when to see a GP
See a GP if you develop an inflamed red rash or raised patches on or around your groin, and if the skin is cracked, sore and itchy. The key is to avoid anything that could irritate psoriasis. So, avoid products with fragrances or harsh chemicals, pat yourself dry rather than rub the area, and wear cotton, loose-fitting underwear to stop friction. A healthy balanced diet can also help to prevent flare-ups.
In terms of treatments, topical steroid creams can be used to clear up psoriasis, but be careful of using steroids in the groin area. Mild corticosteroids used sparingly and for a short time may be necessary to treat it. This is normally prescribed by a GP or specialist if it’s being used for psoriasis in the groin area.
4. Lichen planus
What is lichen planus and how do you get it?
Lichen planus is an itchy rash that affects many parts of the body including the genitals and surrounding area. It’s not contagious so you can’t pass it on through sex, but sex may be uncomfortable if you have lichen planus in the genitalia area if the itching is severe.
How you contract lichen planus is unknown, but it may be related to your immune system. It’s thought to be caused by an immune response to certain allergens and viral infections - there is a link between hepatitis C infection and lichen planus.
What areas of the body does lichen planus affect?
Although lichen planus can affect the genitals, it’s not the most common area. More than half of people with lichen planus have it in their mouth, and in rare cases, lichen planus can become ulcerative which can be particularly painful in the mouth and on the genitals. This is known as erosive lichen planus.
Who does lichen planus affect?
Lichen planus predominantly affects adults over the age of 40.
How to relieve it and when to see a GP
See a GP if you have sore red patches on your vulva or penis; the patches may appear ring-shaped and be purple or white in colour. You may have a range of tests to rule out other causes.
Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing if you have lichen planus on your genitals, and relieve the itching by placing a cold compress on the affected area.
Eventually, lichen planus should clear on its own, but this may take some time. It can take anywhere from 9 to 18 months to fully clear, so it’s understandable if you want help to speed things along.
Certain treatments may help to clear it faster or ease the symptoms. Antihistamines can help to reduce intense itching, whilst topical corticosteroids can reduce inflammation. Always use corticosteroids under the supervision of your GP, especially if you’re using them down below!
5. Lichen sclerosus
What is lichen sclerosus and how do you get it?
Lichen sclerosus is another non-infectious itchy skin condition that most often affects the genitals more than any other area of the body. The condition causes itchy patches around the vulva, anus and penis. The patches usually appear white in colour and can be either smooth or crinkled and may be sore or bleed if scratched.
Similar to lichen planus, it’s not known exactly what causes lichen sclerosus and there is no cure, but there are things you can do to relieve the symptoms.
Who does lichen sclerosus affect?
Women over 50 are affected by it the most, however, anyone at any age can develop lichen sclerosus, including children.
How to relieve lichen sclerosus and when to see a GP
See a GP if you develop white patches on your genitals. Lichen sclerosus may also cause pain during sex or while using the toilet. Your GP will likely prescribe corticosteroid creams, and there are also some things you can do to help yourself such as:
- Wear cotton or silk underwear - these are softer, breathable and will stop friction
- Wash yourself and your underwear with mild products that don’t contain chemicals or dry out the skin
- Use emollients, barrier creams or ointments on the affected areas
- Use a lubricant if sex is uncomfortable
- After peeing, gently dab the area dry
6. Chafing and intertrigo
What is chafing and how do you get it?
Chafing happens when the skin rubs against something causing friction, pain and irritation. It usually occurs when the inner thighs rub together; this can be skin-to-skin contact or when the skin rubs against clothing. After a while, chafing causes a red stinging rash and potentially swelling and bleeding in severe cases.
Intertrigo is an inflammatory skin condition caused by chafing. It can lead to bacterial or fungal infection due to the damage to the skin caused by chafing. Damaged skin, warmth and moisture allow fungi and bacteria to invade the area and grow.
What areas of the body does chafing affect?
The inner thighs are most commonly affected by chafing but the groin is also an area affected, particularly if you wear tight and synthetic underwear. The buttocks, armpits, nipples and feet can also chafe.
Who does it affect?
Moisture from sweating combined with friction is enough to cause chafing which is uncomfortable, to say the least!
Activities that make you sweat a lot such as endurance sports can cause chafing where the skin rubs against skin or clothing, thus, athletes are particularly susceptible to chafing. As do those who are overweight or are breastfeeding.
How to relieve chafing and when to see a GP
If chafing becomes severe and you develop swelling, bleeding, discolouration or crust, it’s time to see a doctor. In these cases, steroid creams may be prescribed.
Wearing breathable, fast-drying clothes that are well-fitted will help to prevent chafing. Trousers made from soft fabric are better than skirts as the material acts as a barrier so the skin doesn’t rub together.
It’s important to keep your clothes dry as much as possible as moisture exacerbates chafing, so change clothing when it becomes wet and wash after sweating as sweat can irritate the skin. Dry your skin thoroughly after showering and bathing and use powders to keep the area dry.
Barrier creams and gels can help stop friction. Lanacane anti-chafing gel is a good option as it’s non-greasy, quick-drying and fragrance-free.
7. Contact dermatitis
What is contact dermatitis and how do you get it?
As the name suggests, contact dermatitis occurs when an irritant comes into contact with the skin causing an allergic reaction. Symptoms of contact dermatitis can include dry, flaky, cracked, blistering, swollen and thickened skin with intense itching. The groin can be affected by contact dermatitis, which is most likely caused by irritant chemicals in some bathing and skincare products.
What other areas of the body are affected by contact dermatitis?
Contact dermatitis can affect almost any part of the body that comes into contact with an irritating substance but the hands and face are the main areas affected.
How to relieve contact dermatitis and when to see a GP
Contact dermatitis usually clears up on its own if the substance that’s causing your symptoms is identified and avoided. If not, you may need to see your GP who can send you for tests to figure out the cause.
See a GP if your condition isn’t responding to treatment and your symptoms are severe. Your GP will likely recommend emollients and antihistamines to soothe the itch and moisturise the skin. Hydrocortisone cream may be necessary to clear it.
What are parasitic infections and how do you get them?
Parasites are organisms that infect and live off another organism. Parasitic infections that affect humans, particularly in the groin/genitalia area are pubic lice and scabies. The most notable symptoms of these infections are itching and a rash where the parasites have bitten or burrowed into the skin.
Pubic lice and scabies are contagious, and sex is a common way of spreading both types of parasitic infections.
What other areas of the body are affected by pubic lice and scabies?
Pubic lice are found in body hair, but they aren’t the kind of lice that affect the head. Pubic lice usually infest the hair on your pubic area, chest, armpits, face and eyelashes. On the other hand, scabies affects the skin, particularly where the skin folds such as the groin, buttocks, breasts and between the fingers.
Who do these infections affect?
Scabies is more prevalent in densely populated areas and tropical and subtropical countries such as Africa, India and the Caribbean Islands. There are also cases in the UK, particularly during the winter when people tend to be in close contact with each other. Pubic lice can affect anyone, but if you have multiple sexual partners you’re more likely to catch pubic lice.
How to relieve pubic lice and scabies and when to see a GP
If you think you have scabies or pubic lice, avoid any sexual contact until you have been treated. Pubic lice can be treated at home with an insecticide lotion that kills the lice. This is only to be used for an infestation in the pubic area and not on the face or eyes. If treatment isn’t working it’s time to see a GP as the lice may be resistant to the type of treatment you’re using.
To clear a scabies infestation and relieve the symptoms, permethrin is the first line of treatment. Malathion is another medicine that may be used if permethrin doesn’t work.
9. Genital herpes
What is genital herpes and how do you get it?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is passed on through sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. The virus responsible for this infection is called the herpes simplex virus, the same virus that causes cold sores.
You can become infected at any point in your life, but once you become infected, the virus lays dormant in your body and may show symptoms whenever you’re unwell or stressed. This is known as an outbreak.
Symptoms of genital herpes include small blisters on the genitals or anus, burning, tingling or itching around your genitals, unusual vaginal discharge and pain when peeing.
Who does genital herpes affect?
Anyone who has sexual contact with someone who has genital herpes can become infected. But those who have a compromised immune system are more likely to be affected by complications of the virus, such as those who have HIV or are pregnant.
How to relieve genital herpes and when to see a GP
See a GP as soon as possible if you develop symptoms of genital herpes. Although genital herpes cannot be cured, there are ways to manage an outbreak and prevent recurring outbreaks.
If it’s your first outbreak, antiviral medication is normally prescribed and further outbreaks are usually less severe and will clear on their own.
Managing your triggers is key to preventing further outbreaks. For example, friction during sex can trigger an outbreak, so use a lubricant to stop friction. If stress is your trigger, try to manage this as best you can by getting quality sleep, reducing your workload, spending more time socialising or doing the things you love and even practicing mindfulness.
10. Genital warts
What are genital warts and how do you get them?
Genital warts are another STI caused by a virus. This time, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible. It spreads by having sex with someone who has genital warts, and they don’t necessarily need to have symptoms in order to pass it on.
During an outbreak, small painless growths may appear on the genitals or anus, and the area may itch and bleed. Another notable symptom is a change in the flow of your pee, for example, it may flow sideways.
How to relieve genital warts and when to see a GP
See a GP if you develop symptoms of genital warts, or visit your local sexual health clinic. Warts can develop anywhere on the body, but you shouldn’t use an average wart treatment to treat warts on the genitals.
Instead, you will be prescribed a specialist medicine known as podophyllotoxin. It works by killing wart cells and stopping them from multiplying. Podophyllotoxin is applied topically to the surface of the wart and it may take weeks or months to clear.
Imiquimod cream is another medication that is used to treat genital warts. Again, this can take several weeks to clear the lesions.
In an outbreak, help yourself by avoiding smoking and using perfumed products in the area as this will irritate your skin further.
11. Allergic reaction
What is an allergic reaction and how do you get it?
An allergic reaction is your body’s immune response to a substance. These substances can be things like pollen, pet dander, dust, and foods such as nuts which are normally harmless to the human body. However, in some people, the immune system mistakes these allergens as a threat and produces an inflammatory response in order to defend against them.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include a rash, itching, and swelling of the skin and eyes, and in more severe cases an allergic reaction can cause difficulty breathing and unconsciousness (anaphylactic shock).
You get an allergic reaction when you come into contact with the substance that you have an allergy to, this can be touching it, eating it or inhaling it.
What areas of the body do allergies affect?
It’s common for the skin, eyes and sinuses to be affected by allergies. If you have itching in the groin it might be due to an allergic reaction from creams, lotions or bathing products that you have used in this area. Check the ingredients for any well-known allergens, these include parabens, sulphates, fragrances and acids which can cause skin irritation in some people.
How to relieve an allergic reaction and when to see a GP
If you have symptoms of an allergic reaction see your GP for a diagnosis of the cause. Skin patch tests and blood tests are performed to find the allergen that may be causing your symptoms. If you experience symptoms of anaphylactic shock, call 999 or go straight to A&E as this is a medical emergency.
Mild allergies can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines. For skin reactions, topical corticosteroids are used but they are not suitable for application to the genitals unless prescribed by a doctor. The groin area can be treated if the genitals are avoided.
To avoid future allergic reactions, avoid the allergen that is responsible. Don’t use wet wipes, douches, soaps or emollients in the genital/groin area.