What’s causing penis sores?

A lump or cut is a painful sore. Sores may show up on any part of the skin, including the penis. Penis sores are often the result of an infection or skin condition that is transmitted through sex.

While some penis sores will clear up on their own, many need treatment to avoid symptoms getting worse, complications and transmission to others.

In this article we list 12 potential causes of penis sores and the available remedies for each.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), passing through sexual activity from one person to another. In the United States, genital herpes are present in more than 1 in every 6 people aged 14–49.

The herpes simplex virus causes herpes to the genitals. The signs may include hot, itchy, fluid-filled, penis blistering sores and other genital sections. Those blisters can leave scars when they burst.

Treatment

Herpes is not healed but antiviral drugs may help prevent or treat outbreaks.

People will avoid having sexual activity until the sores are gone. Persons should also refrain from scratching the sores because this can allow the virus to spread to other areas.

Genital warts

Another type of viral STI, caused by human papillomavirus, is genital warts. They appear as thin, bumpy, sometimes stalky, cauliflower-like growths on the penis. Genital warts can cause discomfort and itching.

At any given time, about 1 percent of sexually active people in the U.S. have genital warts

Treatment

If the warts do not cause pain and discomfort then there is no need for medication. The warts will go down on their own within 2 years, with up to 1 in 3 people with the condition.

A doctor can freeze them off to remove the warts, perform laser surgery or prescribe a topical medicine to cure the warts. Nevertheless, these treatments do not kill the virus which causes the warts, so they may return in the future.

People should avoid having sex for at least 2 weeks after the warts have gone away. After this time the virus can still spread to others, so it is necessary to use barrier protection when having sex.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a severe infection of bacteria, and another form of STI.

Syphilis usually causes a smooth, painless, red sore on the penis in the early stages of an infection. This heartburn lasts 3–6 weeks.

Untreated, syphilis can lead to:

  • cardiovascular problems
  • dementia
  • hearing or vision loss
  • increased risk of HIV infection
  • meningitis
  • pregnancy, childbirth, and fetal complications
  • stroke

Treatment

If a person suspects syphilis, they must seek medical attention as early as possible to avoid the progression of the infection and cause severe, permanent complications to the health.

A penicillin injection is the main form of treatment for syphilis

Scabies

A doctor may prescribe a cream or lotion to treat scabies
A doctor may prescribe a cream or lotion to treat scabies

Scabies is an infectious skin condition that can affect many body parts, including the penis.

People get scabies when the mite Sarcoptes scabiei burrows into their skin. Sexual contact raises penile risk of scabies.

Scabies causes extremely itchy tiny blisters or sores on the skin, particularly at night. Such sores typically occur in thin, irregular lines that indicate the mite’s course beneath the skin.

A person who never had scabies before may not develop symptoms until after 4–6 weeks after an infestation occurs. In cases of a second or subsequent infestation, symptoms typically develop within 1–4 days.

Treatment

The first line of treatment for scabies is the prescription creams and lotions. If these fail, a doctor can prescribe oral medicines.

Itching can be treated by cold compresses and antihistamines until the scabicide drug takes effect.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is an infection of the skin by virus. Molluscum contagiosum can be caught by anyone from direct contact with others or from sharing towels or personal items. Sexual contact on the penis can cause this to develop.

Signs include sores on the penis that are itchy, swollen, raised, purple or flesh-coloured. These can happen by themselves or in clusters.

Most cases clear up within 12–18 months without care. While sores are present, molluscum contagiosum can be transmitted to others.

Treatment

Doctors recommend: To clear the sores to stop spreading the infection to others:

  • topical creams or lotions
  • surgical removal of the lesions with a curette, which is a small hooked tool
  • cryotherapy
  • laser surgery

Chancroid

Chancroid is a bacterial infection which may be caused by the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi. It spreads through sex without the security of barriers from one person to another.

The infection causes the penis to develop small, red, raised sores. These are itchy and unpleasant, and when they eventually open up and become ulcerative they ooze blood or other fluid.

Certain signs include discomfort during sexual activity and urination, and groin swelling.

Treatment

As with other bacterial infections, antibiotic therapy is the primary treatment for chancroid. Treatment will treat and prevent this infection from spreading to others.

Chancroid represents a risk factor for infection with HIV.

Granuloma inguinale

Granuloma inguinale is a bacterial STI that causes the genitals and anuses to form ulcers. It is uncommon in the United States but widespread in certain developing regions.

The infection initially causes small, painless bumps. Those sores expand slowly over time into worsening bleeding ulcers.

Treatment

Antibiotics treat the infection and reduce the risk of scarring.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition which results in red, scaly skin patches. It can inflict on penis and genitals:

  • a red rash with silvery scales
  • dry, cracking skin that may bleed
  • itching, pain, and discomfort

Symptoms are variable from person to person. It may occur in some as just a few spots, whereas others experience a widespread rash.

Treatment

There is no cure for psoriasis, but treatment aims to keep symptoms under control. Medical treatments include:

  • topical creams and ointments
  • oral medications
  • injected medications
  • UV light therapy

Lifestyle changes and home remedies can relieve discomfort. These include cool compresses, moisturizing lotions, and stress management.

Atopic dermatitis

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition. This can affect a lot of parts of the body like the penis.

The eczema rash causes it scrape to become dark, flaky bumps. The bumps, before forming a scab, can blister and burst.

Eczema occurs in people who have a variant of gene which affects the ability of their skin to protect against irritants and allergens. Penis eczema rashes can result from contact with scented cleaning products, laundry detergents or from clothing chafing.

Treatment

Mild eczema may respond to the home remedies as follows:

  • cool compresses
  • warm oatmeal baths
  • loose clothing
  • moisturizing with an unscented lotion

If these do not work a doctor can prescribe medicines or topical creams for oral or injection.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a further disease of the autoimmune skin. This causes a itchy rash, with flat, purple-red bumps. The rash may grow on the penis, internal arms, wrists, ankles, or other parts of the body.

These sores that develop blisters oozing over and crusting over. It may also develop painful, white sores that look like lace in the mouth.

Treatment

Treatment for mild lichen planus cases involves oatmeal baths, cool compresses, and creams of hydrocortisone over- the-counter (OTC).

If those options are not working, a physician can prescribe medication.

Diabetes ulcers

Ulcers with diabetes typically show up on the feet. At least one case report, however, reports diabetes-related penile ulcers. Treatment in this case involved cream antifungal and medicine to regulate blood sugar levels.

More popular Diabetes mellitus symptoms include

  • slow healing sores on the skin
  • frequent skin infections
  • increased thirst and urination
  • extreme hunger
  • fatigue and irritability
  • blurred vision

Treatment

Treatment for Diabetes varies from person to person. Options include medications, a balanced diet, physical activity and other changes in lifestyle.

Penile cancer

Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer. Typically, the first symptom is a change in the skin of the penis, such as:

  • a lump or small, crusty sore or ulcer that may bleed
  • changes in skin color
  • thickening of the skin
  • a rash under the foreskin
  • odorous discharge or bleeding under the foreskin
  • flat growths

Treatment

Penile cancer requires prompt treatment to stop it from progressing. A doctor may recommend one of the following options:

  • surgical removal of the foreskin or cancerous tissue
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy

Outlook

The outlook for those suffering from penis sores depends on the underlying cause. Penis sores typically develop due to an STI or chronic skin condition. It is important that sexual activity is avoided until a doctor determines the exact cause of the sores.

Seek prompt medical attention if the sore is followed by more signs such as:

  • painful urination or ejaculation
  • unusual discharge from the penis or the sores
  • fever or chills
  • fatigue or a general feeling of illness
  • unexplained weight loss

The earlier a person seeks treatment, the better the outcome.

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