Itchiness is defined as a sensation that compels you to scratch -- a particularly vexing problem when the itch is located in your groin. Several infectious and noninfectious skin conditions can provoke severe groin itchiness, including contact dermatitis and jock itch, among others. As effective treatment depends on accurate identification of the underlying cause, see your healthcare provider if you experience this troubling symptom.
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Contact dermatitis develops when direct exposure to a substance proves skin inflammation accompanied by a localized rash and itchiness. Roughly 80 percent of contact dermatitis is the irritant variety and the remaining cases represent an allergic reaction, as noted in an August 2010 Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education online article. Contact dermatitis frequently affects the groin area and some common culprits include:
- Feminine hygiene products
- Laundry detergent, bleach and fabric softener residues in underwear
- Body soaps, bubble bath and bath salts
- Spermicides, lubricants and sex toys
- Latex condoms
Jock itch, or tinea cruris, is an infection of the groin skin caused by microscropic fungi called dermatophytes. The moist skin of the groin provides an ideal environment for these fungi, which cause a well defined, itchy red rash when they invade the superficial skin. Jock itch typically involves the groin skin fold and the rash often extends to the upper front thigh skin. Men are affected more commonly than women. The skin of the scrotum and penis are usually not involved, which helps distinguish this groin infection from others.
A type of yeast called Candida frequently causes groin infections, typically accompanied by a red rash and severe itchiness. This infection, known as candidiasis, is particularly common in women and affects the skin of the vulva and vagina. Other symptoms include burning, soreness and a white vaginal discharge that often resembles cottage cheese. Candida infections in men usually involve the head of the penis, or the glans, but sometimes extend down the shaft of the penis. Uncircumcised men develop this type of yeast infection more frequently than circumcised men, and a white discharge often accumulates under the foreskin.
The groin skin contains an abundance of sweat and oil glands. Secretions from these glands can lead to excessive moisture, particularly in hot weather or when wearing clothing that doesn't allow groin sweat to evaporate easily. Intertrigo develops when moist skin surfaces rub together, leading to breakdown of the superficial skin layer and accompanying irritation. The groin skin is common site for intertrigo, especially among people carrying excess body weight and those with diabetes. Itching and burning usually accompany the red rash of intertrigo. The damaged skin often becomes secondarily infected with Candida or bacteria, which often leads to a foul odor and possibly a pus-like discharge. Skin crusting is common in people with longstanding intertrigo.
Several other skin disorders and conditions can potentially cause severe groin itchiness, including atopic dermatitis (hereditary eczema), psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. While groin involvement sometimes occurs with these conditions, other areas of the skin are almost always involved as well. The same is true for lichen planus and lichen simplex, two chronic skin conditions that can affect the genital skin and cause severe itchiness. Pubic lice, commonly known as crabs, is another important consideration with the abrupt development of intense groin itchiness. Other less common skin conditions might also be to blame.
Next Steps and Precautions
See your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you develop unexplained severe groin itchiness. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any warning signs or symptoms, including fever or chills, or spreading redness or red streaks radiating from the rash.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.