Itching down there is no laughing matter. It can be uncomfortable and worrisome.
But don’t panic just yet. Depending on where your itching is occurring – either on your genitals or the skin surrounding it – it could very well be caused by a yeast or fungal infection.
Yeast infections are often thought of as a health problem affecting people with vaginas, but they can affect anyone, including people with penises. Yeast infections are unpleasant, but the good news is that they are highly treatable.
If you have a penis, and you’re dealing with an itchy region downstairs, here’s how to rule out jock itch, a penile yeast infection, or something else.
What are male yeast infections?
This type of yeast infection occurs when a fungal infection develops on the penis or in the warm, moist areas of the groin (or crotch).
“If it occurs on the skin surrounding the genitals, it is called tinea cruris (AKA jock itch), and if it occurs on the skin of the penis, it is often called balanitis or a penile yeast infection,” said Randy Gelow, MD, a family medicine physician with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “Both are caused by fungal strains.”
Generally, when people talk about yeast infections, they’re talking about the fungal strain known as Candida albicans. Candida hangs out in and on your body naturally. There may be some in your mouth, digestive tract and, you guessed it, in your nether regions.
“While it doesn’t cause issues most of the time, if too much grow in any place, it can lead to a yeast infection,” Dr. Gelow said.
On the other hand, Trichophyton rubrumis the fungus that causes jock itch. It can sometimes cause athlete’s foot, nail fungal infections and ringworm.
Who is at higher risk for getting a yeast infection?
“Fungus loves moisture (and sugar) and if you’re particularly sweaty, you can be at an increased risk of the normal fungus (or bacteria) that lives on our bodies to then overgrow and cause symptoms,” Dr. Gelow said.
Some other factors can make it more likely to develop a yeast infection than others. These include having diabetes, being uncircumcised, having a weakened immune system, and being overweight.
Sugar levels are often higher in those with diabetes (especially in the urine) and any urine that isn’t cleaned after someone uses the bathroom, specifically in those that are uncircumcised, can increase the growth of fungus,” Dr. Gelow said.
If you have sex with a person who has a vaginal yeast infection, that overgrowth of fungus can spread to you as well. However, Dr. Gelow noted the environment has to be just right for this to happen.
“It’s possible to get a yeast infection from vaginal or oral intercourse but these aren’t considered STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and are generally only possible under certain circumstances, like having uncontrolled diabetes or not cleansing after intercourse,” he said
What are the symptoms of a male yeast infection?
The symptoms of a yeast infection are pretty hard to miss.
Symptoms of jock itch:
- Itchy and/or painful rash that affects the groin, inner thighs and buttocks.
- Scaly, crusty patch with white or yellow discharge
- Foul smell
Symptoms of penile yeast infection:
- Itchy rash on the head or shaft of the penis
- Shiny white patches on the penis
- Smelly substance coming from the area or under the foreskin
- Clumpy thick white discharge that looks like cottage cheese
What should you do if you think you have a yeast infection?
Home remedies won’t do you any good for yeast infections. So put down the apple cider vinegar and yogurt. You’ll need antifungal medications to get rid of the overgrowth.
Most yeast infections are highly treatable and respond well to antifungal creams, such as Lotrimin or Micatin.
“Topical ointments and creams can often be purchased over-the-counter to treat mild cases,” Dr. Gelow said. “For severe disease, an oral medication like fluconazole may be prescribed along with stronger topical medications.”
Could my symptoms be caused by an STI or worse, cancer?
Yeast infections can look very much like other health problems, such as STIs, chronic skin conditions like inverse psoriasis (a form that occurs in the folds of the skin), and, rarely, penile cancer.
“If over-the-counter treatments aren’t doing the trick, it’s important to speak with your health care provider as it might not be fungal after all,” Dr. Gelow said.
Can I prevent yeast infections?
Since moisture is a driving factor, there are some things you can do to help ward off an overgrowth. This includes changing out of sweaty clothes, showering after you work out, and washing or cleaning yourself off downstairs after sex. Over-the-counter powders are effective to keep you dry, but you must use them regularly.
Since yeast infections can be contagious (under the right circumstances), here are some other ways to avoid transmitting, spreading or catching it:
- Don’t have sex if you have a yeast infection.
- Never share personal items like towels, jock straps (athletic supporters) or protective padding.
- Always wear sandals in moist environments like the shower, sauna or public swimming pools.
- Wipe down shared exercise equipment.
- Try to keep yourself dry if you tend to be sweaty.
Yeast infections can happen to anyone with a penis or a vagina. The good news is that they are highly treatable.
If you believe you have a jock itch or a penile yeast infection, talk to your health care provider. They can evaluate your symptoms, rule out other possibilities and start treatment.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.