Health & Fitness

Itchy balls: Bad hygiene or medical problem?


Having an occasional itch around your scrotum or penis can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. PHOTO | FILE



  • Although most men don’t think much of genital itch, is it really normal to walk around absent-mindedly scratching your balls?

Male genital itching can be annoying. Although most men don’t think much of genital itch, is it really normal to walk around absent-mindedly scratching your balls?

Having an occasional itch around your scrotum or penis can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Poor hygiene

This is the most common reason. The moisture that builds up in the groin area due to sweating can lead to bacterial overgrowth, skin irritation, itch and genital odour.
Solution: Usually dirt related genital itch resolves upon showering. Uncircumcised men must clean out any secretion in the folds of the foreskin.


Chafing occurs when the skin around your thighs and groin area rub against each other. This usually occurs when you walk a lot or perform activities that involve lots of friction, like running. The rubbing results in a red, inflamed skin rash that burns and itches.

Solution: If your skin is drying off, apply a light unscented moisturiser to the area. Ensure the area is clean before applying anything on it.

Contact Dermatitis

If you are allergic to a detergent or soap used to clean your underwear or to shower, you may develop an itchy, pimply red rash. This rash usually clears once your groin is not in contact with the offending item for several days.

Solution: Use unscented laundry products to clean your underwear. Only use mild soaps to shower.

Pubic Lice

These tiny insects, also referred to as crabs, infest the genital region and lay eggs in the pubic hair (these usually look like white powder). They can be a nuisance and are easily passed on from one person to the next.

Usually, this is through coming into contact with infested beddings, towels, toilets or clothes. They can also be transmitted through sex.

Solution: there are several over-the-counter and prescription shampoos that can be used to destroy pubic lice. You must also thoroughly clean or destroy infested beddings/clothes. Your sexual partner must also be treated.

Jock Itch

Jock itch (also known as ‘tinea cruris’) is a fungal infection that is normally localised to the area surrounding the genitalia or inner thighs. The skin may look reddish, dry and flaky. There is often an accompanying unusual odour and irritating itch.

Solution: Use anti-fungal cream and keep your genital area clean.


Scabies is a skin condition caused by microscopic bugs known as mites. It is highly contagious and results in a reddish (or blackish) pimply rash that is extremely itchy (worse at night). Usually, scabies spreads to other parts of the body and it is not unusual to have the buttocks, thighs and lower back affected.

Solution: Usually requires medicated creams/lotions/soaps.

Sexually transmitted infections

Genital herpes, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhoea can all present with genital itching. Genital herpes is a viral infection that may result in formation of blisters around your testicles or penis. Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that results in production of a yellowish penile discharge. It can also cause pain on urination and testicular discomfort.

Trichomoniasis and chlamydia are also bacterial infections that can cause penile discharge and genital discomfort. It is also important to note that men can harbour sexually transmitted bugs without any symptoms.

Solution: Do not try and treat STIs at home. Several of these bacteria have become resistant to multiple antibiotics, which complicates their treatment. Always get assessed by a doctor.

Make sure you get your infection treated as it could lead to infertility if left untreated.

Genital warts

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are cauliflower shaped pimples that can appear in clusters (groups). They can be passed on to sexual partners. They may not always be itchy. They can also affect your hands or anus.

Solution: There are special prescription pencils that can ‘burn’ off the warts. You can also use cryotherapy (‘freeze’ them off) or even laser therapy. In cases of very large warts that do not respond to other therapy, you may consider having them surgically removed.

Nerve Damage

Genital itching due to nerve damage is extremely rare. It occurs when there is damage to nerves supplying the lower back, groin and thigh area.

General tips:

• Shower daily and keep the genital area clean and dry.
• Try to always use mild soap and ensure you rinse your genitals well.
• Wear loose, natural-fibre underwear (like those made of cotton). Ensure that you change your underwear at least every 24 hours.
• Use mild, unscented detergents to wash your underwear.
• Avoid staying in wet clothing for long periods of time. Do not wear wet underwear. If your underwear is not dry, you would rather not wear any.
• Avoid unprotected sex.
• Visit your dermatologist for review.