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So, you've spotted itchy, red, or sore skin down under - and we don't mean Australia. If it's been there for a few days and doesn't seem to be improving, it could be one of several skin conditions, such as genital psoriasis or genital herpes. Don't worry - we've got you.
What's the difference?
Symptoms can differ from person to person and distinguishing between psoriasis and herpes can be difficult without the help of a healthcare professional. Here are some key factors to help you determine the cause of your symptoms:
|Genital psoriasis||Genital herpes|
|skin may appear shiny, smooth, or flat||affected area may have blisters or ulcers|
|skin has red patches||skin does not have large red patches|
|though unusual in the groin, some silvery scales may be visible||symptoms of a new infection may appear 2-10 days after having sex with someone who has the infection|
|skin may crack and bleed||in an initial infection, skin changes are accompanied by flu-like symptoms|
|skin may be sensitive and itch or burn||affected area is itchy, tingly, or painful|
|similar patches may also appear on other parts of the body||swollen lymph nodes, primarily in the groin|
This sometimes inherited condition comes in many forms, ranging from mild to severe. Plaque psoriasis is the most common and is the result of rapid skin cell production due to inflammation in the body.
Basically, skin cells accumulate on the surface of the skin and give the appearance of thick, irritated, and silvery or scaly skin. Plaque psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body, but most commonly affects:
- lower back
Inverse psoriasis is another form of psoriasis that forms in the folds of the skin - the groin being a common area for this type to occur in. Inverse psoriasis also differs from plaque psoriasis because the silvery scales are usually absent. Common areas affected include:
- inframmary area (under the breasts)
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that doesn't always cause symptoms. (Thanks, but not really.) If symptoms do appear, they generally include:
- red bumps or white lesions
- blisters that ooze or bleed
- scabbing as blisters heal
Before visible symptoms appear, you may feel pain, itching, or soreness around the genitals. These symptoms typically show up 2-10 days after being initially exposed.
Other symptoms to appear during the early stages of an initial infection with the herpes virus include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- flu-like symptoms
Receiving a proper diagnosis of herpes is very important, since sexual activity can pass the virus to others without them knowing.
If left untreated, herpes can make you more susceptible to other STDs. In severe instances, possible complications may include:
- bladder infection
- rectal inflammation
A woman with herpes may also pass the condition to her newborn baby.
Where do herpes symptoms generally appear? This differs a bit by gender:
- Women more commonly experience symptoms in their vagina, outside the vagina, or on their cervix, butt, anus, or mouth.
- Men tend to develop symptoms on their thighs, penis, urethra, and scrotum.
Psoriasis risk factors
Unlike herpes, psoriasis is not contagious. Genetics are the biggest factor for developing the condition. Other factors that may contribute to psoriasis may include stress, being overweight, smoking, and exposure to viral and bacterial infections may also increase your risk. Some medications may also precipitate psoriasis.
Herpes risk factors - a risky business
Know who you're sleeping with - 1 in 8 people between the ages of 14-49 have genital herpes.
Simply put - if you're sexually active, then you're at risk. The risk also increases with the more people you have sex with. A rare perk of having less sex!
The herpes virus can't live long outside the body. That means you can't get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.
Having herpes may increase your risk of:
- cold sores (HSV-1)
How is genital psoriasis treated?
Psoriasis is a lifelong condition, meaning treatments are used to manage symptoms. Fortunately there are many effective treatments available, including:
- coal tar
- topical retinoid
- topical vitamin D analogs
- steroid creams
- topical calcineurin inhibitors (off-label)
Phototherapy is another option that uses small doses of UV light to treat the affected patches of skin.
Identifying what triggers your psoriasis will also help you manage symptoms. For instance, alcohol, stress, and certain medications can worsen psoriasis symptoms.
Keep a diary to help pinpoint your triggers and bring it with you when you meet with your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out the right long-term approach to managing the condition.
How is genital herpes treated?
There is no cure for herpes. Symptoms can become less severe over time though. Talk to your healthcare provider about approved antiviral medications that can shorten or prevent outbreaks and reduce the severity of symptoms.
Practice safe sex
Stopping the spread of herpes is the most important part of your treatment.
Always be upfront in telling sexual partners that you have the condition, and always use condoms. Though sadly, condoms don't completely eliminate the risk of spreading herpes, as they only cover part of the potentially-affected area.
During a flare-up, wash your hands often and avoid touching open sores. This may help reduce the spread to other parts of your body.
Talking to a doctor
Try not to feel self-conscious about symptoms on your “nether region.” Doctors see this stuff all day, every day, and they want to help. #NotAllHeroesWearCapes
Proper diagnosis is essential for improving symptoms and your quality of life, so get in there!
It's also always a good idea to get screened for STDs if you're sexually active. #Adulting
- Psoriasis is an inflammatory, sometimes inherited, and chronic skin condition that is not contagious.
- Herpes is an incurable, highly contagious sexually transmitted disease.
- Genital psoriasis appears as shiny, flat, red, and sometimes scaly patches of skin.
- Herpes appears as small pimple like wounds, blisters, or open ulcers that ooze and are painful.
- Seeing a doctor is essential for both conditions.