Myth of the month: On genital eruptions
Myth: All genital eruptions are sexually transmitted diseases.
Fact: People are aware that Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) occur as wounds, growths or as a rash discharging pus from the male or female genitalia. Any such change present on the shaft of the penis, the foreskin or on the female vulva and vagina is usually thought to be an STD. Yet is every such complaint necessarily an STD?
Not always. It should be understood that the skin over the private parts is as vulnerable to any skin disease like that in other parts of the body.
Ordinary skin diseases, which are not necessarily transmitted through sexual intercourse, can occur on the genitalia alone or can be disseminated everywhere on the body including the private parts. Bacterial or fungal infections can appear as red rashes with discharge of pus or pus-like thick flakes. In summer heat boils make their appearance close to the groin folds.
A contagious skin infection known as scabies can appear in the form of itchy lumps on the penis, scrotum or on the female genital area. Intense itching over the area, particularly at night, along with itching all over the body gives away the diagnosis of this infestation.
Scabies can affect the genitals of adult if their children are carriers of the disease. The parasite travels through scratching and lives within the layers of the delicate skin of the penis, scrotum or the vaginal folds.
Sometimes the eruptions on the skin are late to appear whereas the elevations on the genitals appear early causing distress to the patient. Lice, which often affect the scalp hair of women, may sometimes infest the pubic hair giving rise to itchy eruptions in the area. All these infections can be ‘caught’ from an infected sex partner as well although they can appear even otherwise.
Warts and molluscum are viral infections which appear like elevated eruptions on the skin. These could appear on any part of the body including the genitals. If a patient has these eruptions on the fingers he could transmit it to the penis by touch.
Allergic rashes due to condoms, soaps and locally applied creams and ointments can also occur on the penis and vulva. These appear as red marks with itching and oozing on the affected part. Some skin diseases such as lichen planus and psoriasis may occur on the genital areas in addition to its presence on the limbs. These appear as purple or red patches with or without scales.
Allergic reactions to certain medicines appear as blisters or burnt skin on the genitals. Occasionally they may appear as clean looking, superficial, raw wounds on the glans penis or the vagina.
Birthmarks, moles and other natural eruptions can occur on the scrotum, penis or vaginal area of men and women. These are randomly distributed anywhere on the body. When they occur on the genitals they usually go unnoticed till the patient has sex. If the sexual encounter results in guilt the patient closely examines his or her body and discovers these ‘diseases’. Many youngsters make repeated visits to sexologists to get such imaginary diseases treated. Such people find it hard to get convinced even by the doctor. Unfortunately, the ones who do not seek professional advice but visit quacks for treatment get badly exploited – both emotionally and financially.
Sexologists encounter several such patients who are in a state of panic after suspecting that they could be suffering from an STD. In fact some of them repeatedly visit doctors and pathology laboratory tests to confirm that they are not carriers of some dreaded disease like HIV. One must therefore understand that all lesions on the genitalia are not STDs. Getting information from unqualified friends or neighbourhood hakims only complicates matters. Taking the help of a neighbourhood physician is necessary to allay anxiety. If there is a genuine need to consult a specialist, the physician would be in a better position to decide than the panicked ‘patient’.
Source: Dr. Rajan T.D., dermatologist/venereologist