Itching of the groin is as common as itching anywhere on the body. For most of us it is an occasional itch that quickly subsides and is not a persistent problem. An itchy groin is often more distressing than itching elsewhere on the body largely due to social component of it being unacceptable to scratch or touch the groin in public. However, many of the same causes of itching at other sites of the body are also responsible for an itchy groin except for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which are often isolated to the groin area.
Why does the groin itch?
Firstly it is important to understand the area that the word ‘groin’ refers to. The groin is actually the crease between the torso and thighs on either side of the genitals. However, most people refer to the groin as the entire lower pubic area, including the crease, genitals and upper parts of the thigh. Commonly the groin is thought to be the area at the front of the body that is covered fully by underwear.
There are a number of reasons for an itchy groin, some of which are unique to this area of the body specifically even without any underlying disease. However, persistent itching and the presence of a skin rash is indicative of some underlying disease where the itch and rash are symptoms of the condition
The groin is one of the areas of the body that is constantly covered due to social and cultural norms across most of the world. In fact it is is often covered by more than one layer of clothing creating a much warmer environment that other parts of the body. Naturally there tends to be more perspiration in the area. The numerous skin folds of the genitalia, between the thigh and torso coupled with the body hair creates an environment where sweat, dead skin cells and germs thrive. This further contributes to itching.
Causes of Itchy Groin
There is a number of different causes of an itchy groin. It is a symptom of some underlying problem usually involving the skin of the groin region. Although an itchy groin is not always due to skin diseases, persistent itching with constant or recurring skin rashes is unlikely due to lifestyle factors like poor personal hygiene that may cause an itchy groin.
Some of the more common causes of an itchy groin includes :
- Personal hygiene.
- Exposure to irritants.
- Skin infections and sexually transmitted infections.
- Parasitic infestations.
- Psoriasis of the groin region, particularly inverse psoriasis.
- Contact dermatitis.
Poor daily hygiene is one of the major contributors to itching. The accumulation of sweat, dead skin cells, bacteria, fungi and sometimes even urine and fecal particles in the groin region collectively act as an irritant to the skin. It may not pose a problem within a short period but if a person skips bathing frequently or does not wash the groin area thoroughly, it can lead to itching, skin rashes and even infections. Daily bathing is therefore important. In addition, improper cleaning of the genitals and bottom after urinating and defecating can also pose a problem. Both urine and feces are skin irritants when in contact with the skin for prolonged periods.
Apart from the natural body secretions and excretions irritating the skin, a host of other substances can also act as irritants and cause itchiness Soaps, shampoos, body lotions and creams are some of the common substances that can pose a problem. Most people do not experience any irritation and itching with using these products but hypersensitive individuals may react severely with exposure to these products. Various chemicals to remove hair in the groin area, such as depilatory creams and wax, can also irritate the skin. Even with shaving, the delicate skin of the groin area may become irritated. After removal, the growing hair is often itchy as well. Tight underwear can cause chaffing which may also be itchy.
A host of different species of bacteria and fungi can cause an infection of the skin in the groin region. Some viruses like varicella zoster (chickenpox virus) may also be responsible. Itching is a common symptom with these infections. Normally bacteria and fungi do not infect the skin unless there are breaks in the skin. Scratching and chaffing of the skin in the groin are the two most common ways that breaks occur. These infections are also more likely to occur in a person who has a pre-existing skin problem where the skin barrier is compromised. Tinea cruris, also known as jock itch, is a dermatophyte infection of the groin region commonly known as a ringworm. It is one of the more common infectious causes of an itchy groin.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
There are number of different sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can present with an itchy groin. Usually the itching and any skin rashes are isolated to the genitals but sometimes it may involve the surrounding pubic region. The STDs that are more likely to present with an itchy groin associated with skin rashes includes :
- Genital herpes
- Genital warts (HPV)
Lice and Scabies
Lice and scabies are parasitic infestations that can cause an itchy skin. Sometimes these parasites may affect the groin. Different lice can affect different parts of the body. Pubic lice, commonly known as crabs, specifically affects the groin region. The tiny Phthiriasis pubis insect clings to the pubic hairs and feeds off the host which causes itching of the skin. Pubic lice infestation also causes sores on the genitalia along with tiny blue-gray marks known as macula cerulae. Scabies is a skin infestation with the tiny Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Itching is a result of the mite burrowing into the skin. Thin burrow tracks may be visible where the mite penetrates the skin and small blisters and bumps may also be present.
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition where thickened plaques develop as a result of overgrowth of the skin. It can occur anywhere on the body and may sometimes affect the groin region. Psoriasis can be a very itchy skin condition and scratching often does not fully relieve the itching. The type of psoriasis that is more likely to occur in the groin region is inverse psoriasis. The skin rash in inverse psoriasis is bright red, shiny and smooth to the touch. Although psoriasis may clear up even completely during the periods of remission, it can recur again weeks, months or even years later.
Contact dermatitis can affect any part of the body including the groin. There are two types of contact dermatitis – allergic and irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis arises in people who are hypersensitive to certain substances which are otherwise harmless. This can occur with contact with certain textiles used to make underwear, soaps, shampoos and even laundry detergent. Irritant contact dermatitis is when a substance acts a skin irritant and can affect any person even if they do not have any allergy to the specific substance. The irritants can vary from sweat, urine, feces and cosmetics to jewelry (usually with piercings) and tight clothing that causes chaffing. Even water can be an irritant if the groin area is not wiped properly after bathing.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on February 11, 2013