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Shingles on your penis: symptoms, causes, and treatment

Shingles, or shingles, is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. Only people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles.

Shingles usually causes clumps of blisters and rashes. most common place for it to grow, it’s around one side of your waistline, but it also usually shows up on one side of your spine or face.

Although very rare, shingles can potentially develop on your penis. About third of Americans develop shingles at some point in their life, but only a few case studies in the medical literature describe people developing shingles on their penis.

Keep reading to find out why shingles can develop on your penis and how to recognize the symptoms.

More … than 99 percent of people born before 1980 had chickenpox. Symptoms of chickenpox usually go away within 2 weeks. Even after the itchiness subsides, the varicella zoster virus remains dormant in your spinal or cranial nerves.

The virus can stay for decades before reactivating itself. When it reactivates, it causes a condition called shingles. Shingles usually causes blisters or rashes to form on your skin.

Most people get shingles after the age of 50 and around half of the cases are in people over 60 years of age. The virus often reactivates during a period of immunosuppression (weakened immune system) or stress.

Why your penis may be affected

Once the virus is reactivated, it travels along a sensory nerve until it reaches your skin. The part of your skin affected by shingles depends on which nerve the virus becomes active on.

The area of ​​your skin that receives sensory information from a particular nerve is called a dermatome. For example, dermatomes from the nerves that leave your spine at your first lumbar vertebra (L1) are found in your lower back, hips, and groin.

Shingles usually appears in one or two dermatomes side by side.

Neural information from your penis is sent to your brain through the S2 and S3 nerves located in your sacrum. If the virus that causes shingles is activated in these nerves, you can develop shingles on your penis as well as on your buttocks, groin, or thighs.

Penile shingles case studies

A 2015 case study describes a 31 year old man who developed shingles on his penis. The man developed a tingling sensation on his penis for 2 days before developing a rash which lasted for 10 days. He noticed a similar rash on his left thigh 3 days later.

A 2013 study describes a 67-year-old man who developed fatigue, pain in the urethra while urinating, and frequent urination that did not respond to antibiotics. When he went to the doctor, they also found out that he had numbness in his penis and a rash on his left buttock corresponding to his S2 and S3 dermatomes.

One older 2011 study describes two people with weakened immune systems who develop penile shingles.

The first case was a 30-year-old man who developed a rash inside his groin and on the left side of his penis.

The second case was a 72-year-old man who developed a rash in his groin and severe pain in areas corresponding to his dermatomes S2 to S4. A physical exam revealed clusters of fluid-filled blisters on his penis shaft and left buttock.

Shingles of the penis can cause symptoms similar to those of genital herpes. It can be difficult to diagnose on the basis of just one visual inspection.

Symptoms may include:

  • paresthesia (pin and needle sensations)
  • altered sensation in the glans penis (tip of the penis)
  • a rash that may spread to the groin
  • bulbs
  • pain
  • itching

General symptoms include:

Shingles that affects your sacral nerves can also lead to bowel or bladder incontinence.

It is very rare to develop shingles on your penis. In the 2015 case study previously mentioned, the authors describe that they could only find a handful of case studies of penile shingles in the medical literature.

The same authors also report that the sacral nerves are involved in up to 5 percent of shingles cases. Your sacral nerves carry sensory information from your:

  • loins
  • buttocks
  • back legs
  • outer toes
  • genitals
  • heels

It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you develop symptoms of shingles.

On 10 to 18 percent of people with shingles develop a type of long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). A doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs that help lower your risk of developing PHN and other complications.

It is a good idea to contact a doctor any time you develop an unidentified rash on your penis. A rash can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) genital herpes as well as some other STIs.

Shingles is a viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It causes a cluster of rashes or blisters, usually on the chest, waist, or face. In rare cases, it can form on your penis.

If you think you have shingles or have an unidentified penile rash, it’s important to see a doctor quickly for a correct diagnosis and to minimize your risk of developing complications.