Whether red bumps on your penis are uncomfortable or completely pain-free, stuff on your junk that’s not usually there is…just not what you want to see. Your mind might jump to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) even if the trouble is actually an allergic reaction or skin irritation such as eczema.
Before you go into a tailspin of panic, know that “there are various possible causes of having red bumps on your penis, as penile and preputial skin (aka foreskin) tend to be sensitive areas of the body,” says Amanda Mure, M.D., a urologist in Edinburg, Texas.
J. Matt Williams, M.D., a urologist specializing in men’s health says that some causes for red bumps on the penis are more serious than others.
What Causes Red Bumps on Your Penis?
Doctors discuss what those red bumps might be:
This is the inflammation or infection of the hair follicles that can cause red bumps. It can occur due to shaving or friction. If keeping the area clean and dry doesn’t help the problem, you may also get topical or oral antibiotics.
“Contact with certain creams, latex condoms, or soaps, can lead to an allergic reaction, resulting in red, itchy bumps,” notes. Dr. Williams. So can contact with a new body wash or laundry detergent. For mild cases, topical Benadryl can be effective. In severe cases, Dr. Williams recommends seeing a physician.
This is a situation where red bumps on the penis could be a sign of something more serious. It’s not clear what causes Zoon’s balanitis. “This is usually seen on the glans or foreskin of uncircumcised men,” explains Dr. Williams. “This causes asymptomatic, flat red lesions that contain pinpoint darker red spots (cayenne pepper spots).” To take care of it, says Dr. Williams, “generally, good hygiene measures including retracting the foreskin regularly and cleaning the entire glans and foreskin can help with Zoon’s Balanitis.” If not, you can try antifungal creams and your doctor may recommend antibiotics. The definitive treatment is circumcision.
Red bumps on the penis that are associated with this condition are caused by HPV. The condition, says Dr. Williams, “is marked by red-brown lesions on the glans or shaft, usually in circumcised men. It is typically benign, however, there have been rare reports of this progressing to invasive cancer.” Some topical treatments can help, but if these bumps bother you, you can get cryotherapy, laser therapy, or regular surgical excision to remove them.
Red bumps on your penis that could signal penile cancer are generally lesions that aren’t painful but may have a discharge or foul odor. “While this is a rare disease, some risk factors for penile cancer include smoking, HPV infection, and being uncircumcised. The typical age of presentation is 55 to 60, but it can occur at any age,” says Dr. Williams. There are various topical, ablative, surgical, and radiation therapies for penile cancer; which one is right for you depends on the clinical stage of the cancer, he adds.
According to Dr. Williams, STIs can certainly be the cause of red bumps on the penis, but not every red bump on the penis is from an STI. “Genital herpes can lead to red bumps that eventually form painful ulcers. Additionally, syphilis can cause painless red sores on the penis, called chancres. Finally, human papillomavirus (HPV), can cause genital warts and Bowenoid papulosis.” Don’t freak out when you see red bumps on your penis, but do get tested for STIs and treated. Treatment, of course, depends on the STI that you have. Don’t delay or avoid treatment; some STIs can progress even if the bumps go away, and many STIs are quite treatable.
How to Treat Red Bumps on Your Penis
If you’re wondering if most of the above signifies a need to see a provider, you would be right. “Red bumps along with urinary symptoms (like burning or frequency) or penile discharge warrant a prompt doctor’s visit,” Dr. Mure says. “Outside of that scenario, home treatment with over-the-counter antifungal or ‘jock itch’ creams can be used for five to seven days. But if a new red area or bumps develop that don’t disappear within a week, let your primary doctor or urologist know.”
Dr. Williams also explains that specific treatment really depends on the cause of the bump. For example, genital warts can be managed by topical ointments, cryotherapy, or can be removed via surgery. If your symptoms are associated with herpes, oral medications can help manage outbreaks. “If there is concern for malignancy or diagnostic uncertainty exists, your urologist will likely perform a biopsy,” notes Dr. Williams.
When to Call a Doctor, Pronto
• If the bumps are associated with pain, discomfort, itching, or burning
• If there is a discharge or a sore or an ulcer.
• If any lesion is associated with fever or flu-like symptoms.
Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor. In addition to Runner’s World, she has contributed health, fitness and wellness content to Women’s Health, SELF, Prevention, Healthline, and the Houston Chronicle, among other publications. She is also an 11-time marathoner, a USATF Level 1-certified running coach, and an avid traveler.
Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a digital marketing background and her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health and wellness, Ashley covers topics that can help people live happier and healthier lives.