Itchy balls can be a bummer. But scratching only makes the situation worse. In order to soothe that sensitive skin, you need to figure out what’s behind the itching in the first place.
There are a number of causes, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. Some of these can be innocent—say, a new laundry detergent—but others, like infections, can be more serious.
Here, your cheat sheet on 7 conditions that could be behind your itchy undercarriage—and what you can do to stop the scratching, stat.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Fungal Infections
How you know you have it: You’ll likely develop a rash along with the itching, though its appearance varies depending on the type of fungus causing it. For instance, if a yeast infection is responsible, you may notice moist, shiny areas of skin on your penis, and possibly some white stuff in the skin folds, along with the red, itchy rash, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yeast is normally present in small amounts on your skin, but an overgrowth of it can cause an infection. This tends to occur in moist places that don’t get much light, says Jason Reichenberg, M.D., director of dermatology at the University of Texas Austin. So it usually shows up on the sides of your groin, between your genitals and thighs.
Other fungal infections look a little different: They appear dry and flaky, and usually crop up on your thighs, Dr. Reichenberg says.
How to treat it: Whatever the type of fungus responsible for your itching, an antifungal cream like Lotrimin AF should do the trick. The cream attacks the fungal cells that cause the infection, while leaving your healthy skin cells unscathed.
Pat the region dry before rubbing on the cream. That will help get rid moisture, keeping the fungus from growing and allowing the cream to work better, Dr. Reichenberg says.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Chafing
How you know you have it: Chafing occurs when your skin rubs together—commonly your thighs. It usually develops when you’re doing an activity that involves a lot of friction, like running.
The rubbing can disturb your skin barrier, causing tiny cracks and inflammation on your outer layers of skin. This causes a red, irritated rash that burns and itches. Your skin can also grow scaly, too, Dr. Zeichner says.
How to treat it: Your goal is to protect your irritated skin and prevent any additional rubbing. A moisturizer like Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Cream will help repair the skin. It also contains colloidal oatmeal, which works to soothe irritation, Dr. Zeichner says.
Pair that with a zinc cream, like Destin, which protects your skin from future rubbing by adding a protective barrier. And then use a cream that contains petroleum, like CeraVe Healing Ointment, which helps hydrate and restore your skin.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Intertrigo
How you know you have it: You’ll develop a raw, red rash that itches and stings, usually in areas that contain lots of moisture from sweating, Dr. Zeichner says—so, like your groin, between the folds of your stomach, under your arms, or between your toes, according to the Mayo Clinic. That moisture can spur an overgrowth of bacteria and fungus.
How to treat it: Antibacterial creams like Neosporin and antifungal creams, like Lotrimin, can take care of the bacteria and fungus. And a zinc cream, like Destin, shields your skin from more rubbing.
If the rash persists for one to two weeks, head to your dermatologist. He or she will likely prescribe stronger versions of these medications to smooth over the irritation, Dr. Zeichner says.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Contact Dermatitis
How you know you have it: Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes in contact with something it’s allergic to. You’ll likely develop a super itchy, red rash that looks bumpy. It might even ooze a clear or yellowish fluid, which shows that the top layer of your skin has been disrupted, says Dr. Reichenberg.
Contact dermatitis is likely the cause if you notice that itchy rash and you’ve recently changed something in your routine—say, you tried a new laundry detergent or fabric softener, or even bought a new couch made of a different material—right before you noticed it, says Dr. Reichenberg. You’ll usually start to notice a reaction hours or even a few days later.
You’ll also probably experience itching on other body parts that were exposed to the allergen, too, he says. Your itchy balls will likely bother you more, though, since their thin skin is more sensitive to allergens.
How to treat it: Stop using the chemical or material you think may be responsible. If it’s clothing washed in a new detergent, rewash it a few times with your previous brand, says Dr. Reichenberg.
If contact dermatitis was responsible, the reaction should disappear in about two weeks.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Pubic lice
How you know you have it: If you start to notice intense itching, irritation, and tiny specks in your pubic hair, you might have contracted a type of parasite called pubic lice, also known as crabs.
You may see tiny white or yellowish specks near the roots of your pubic hair. Those are the lice eggs, says Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., a professor of adolescent medicine at Indiana University. You might also spot the lice themselves crawling—they’re tan or grayish-white, and if you’re brave enough to look at one through a magnifying glass, it’d resemble a mini crab, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to treat it: Head to your doctor—he or she will confirm that your problem actually is lice, and send you home with a shampoo or lotion containing either permethrin or pyrethrins with piperonyl butoxide, which will kill the lice Dr. Fortenberry says.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Herpes
How you know you have it: For some guys, itching can be the first symptom of this sexually transmitted infection (STI), which is caused by the herpes virus, Dr. Fortenberry says. That itch will usually turn to burning, and within about a day, a blister or cluster of blisters can form. Then, the blisters can break, leading to painful sores.
If you’ve experienced those symptoms in the past and they keep cropping back up, that might point to herpes, since the infection usually causes recurrent outbreaks.
How to treat it: This is another case where you’ll head to your doctor. He or she will diagnose you, either by simply looking at the appearance of your blisters or by performing a blood test or culture of the lesion, reports the CDC.
There’s no cure for herpes, but your doctor can provide some treatment. Antiviral meds, like Valtrex, Zovirax, or Famvir, can shorten the outbreak or prevent one from occurring. They also may reduce the chances of passing on the virus to your partner.
Itchy Crotch Cause: Genital Warts
How you know you have it: Genital warts are a common symptom of the STI human papillomavirus (HPV). They are typically soft to the touch and skin colored, and some may even resemble a cauliflower. You might notice just one, or they could crop up in a cluster, Dr. Fortenberry says. But other than some itching, the warts don’t feel like anything.
How to treat it: If you think you have genital warts, check in with your doctor, Dr. Fortenberry says. He or she will likely prescribe a medication that contains Imiquimod, Podofilox, or Sinecatechins, which will stimulate your body’s immune system to clear up the warts.
Or, she may apply liquid nitrogen to the growth, which will freeze it off.
However, even though you can get rid of the wart, you can’t eliminate the virus from your system—meaning more warts could crop up down the road, and you can still spread it to others if you don’t have a visible wart.