What is Penile Eczema?
Eczema is quite a common dermatological condition characterized by dry patches of skin that are tender to touch, irritable and itchy. Eczema can occur at any area on the body but it is particularly uncomfortable when it occurs in the genital areas, specifically in males. This is known by the term Penile Eczema. This is because the penile area is already extremely sensitive and when eczema occurs at this site it makes it even more sensitive and makes it tough to treat it .[1,2]
Whenever there is a rash around the penis, the first thought that comes to mind is whether it is a sexually transmitted infection. However, in cases of an STI there will be other symptoms aside from the rash like fever, headaches, and abnormal discharge from the penis which is not the case with Penile Eczema.[1,2]
There are two common variants of the eczema that one comes across in the penile region. These include atopic dermatitis which is the most common and perhaps the most severe form of Penile Eczema. It is characterized by itchy red rashes around the penis. Although people of any age can get it, it is seen mostly in people above the age of 50.[1,2]
The second variant is irritant contact dermatitis. This is the most common cause of Penile Eczema. It resembles in part with atopic dermatitis in its character and is caused by irritants like tight clothing or use of any chemical like soap. The rashes are burning in nature and the skin around the penis becomes stiff. There is also cracking of the skin noted. Thus if the skin around the penis becomes tight, sore, cracked, and itchy then it might very well be a case of Penile Eczema.[1,2]
What Causes Penile Eczema?
Penile Eczema can be caused due to genetic as well as environmental factors. If a person has a family history of allergies then the risk of that person of getting atopic dermatitis or Penile Eczema increases. Similarly people who have direct family members with conditions like asthma, hay fever and the like then they are also susceptible to Penile Eczema.
Some studies mention that a child with Penile Eczema has about 60-80% more chances of developing asthma later on in life than others. This is because people prone to allergies have an overactive immune system which acts up when triggered. Additionally, people prone to eczema have a missing protein called filaggrin which protects the skin by acting as a barrier. With this protein missing and proneness to inflammation due to allergies, the chances of getting a condition like Penile Eczema increases multifold.
The environmental causes of eczema are quite variable and range from use of cosmetics to latex and even stress. Weather also plays a role in the development of skin conditions like Penile Eczema especially the winter months when people prone to allergies tend to suffer from Penile Eczema. This is mainly because of the sharp temperature drop, dry winds, and heavy clothing necessary to keep the body warm.
Similarly in the summer months, tight fitting clothing cause excessive sweat especially in the groin and penile area causing rashes to develop with resultant Penile Eczema. Most common allergens to cause it are detergents, soaps, perfumes, polyester or woolen undergarments. While perfumes and detergents rarely come in contact with the penile region, clothing and soaps are quite common. However, Penile Eczema in majority of the cases is caused by latex condoms even though latex as an allergen comes in the rare category.
What are the Symptoms of Penile Eczema?
The primary symptoms of Penile Eczema include:
- Severe itching
- Soreness of the skin with pain around the area
- Rashes around the penis
- Skin discoloration around the penis with it being darker than the surrounding skin
- Skin tightness around the penis
- Dry scaly skin
How Is Penile Eczema Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Penile Eczema is quite straightforward and can be done by just a physical inspection of the area along with history. Additional tests in the form of allergy testing are also quite helpful in making a diagnosis of Penile Eczema.
How is Penile Eczema Treated?
There are a host of treatments available for Penile Eczema in the form of lotions and creams. However, any lotion or cream should only be used after proper guidance from a medical care provider as there is always a chance for further skin irritation and worsening of symptoms. Applying petroleum jelly or Vaseline over the affected area is quite beneficial. Apart from this, wearing loose undergarments for some time till the rashes clear and symptoms resolve is also recommended.
Till the time the symptoms resolve, it is always advised to not use any form of soap or fragrances over the penile area to prevent further worsening. Also using cold creams which cool down the skin and calm down the inflammation are also quite effective for Penile Eczema.
If the symptoms continue to get worse then medical treatments will be required. This is done by administering antihistamines to calm down the itching sensation. Steroids are also sometimes used for a short period of time to calm down the symptoms.
It should be noted that any kind of cracked or broken skin as is seen with Penile Eczema acts as an area where there can be bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. In case if someone has Penile Eczema and feels that it has got infected then it is best to consult a physician for further workup and treatment. This will not only help with treatment but also will prevent further worsening of Penile Eczema.